Most companies are not yet there in having the right infrastructure and tools to enable a mass remote working scenario.
More than half of human resource leaders in a Gartner snap poll indicated that poor technology and/or infrastructure were the biggest barriers to effective remote working.
The work scenario today is testing employers’ IT infrastructure, and security policies.
The need of the hour is to equip the workforce with technology solutions for productivity and collaboration to enable seamless execution.
Essential devices, companies also need to think about ways to improve productivity around flexible, remote workstyles. Their employees need to be equipped with collaborative tools to interact and work with office groups.
Providing access to company data remotely via mobile phones, IT administrators need to consider a broader ecosystem of devices such as notebooks, AR/VR headsets, and other smart devices.
Having a large part of the workforce operating from home or remote locations presents organisations with a new set of challenges—chief of them being data security.
Regardless of their size, companies spend significant resources in securing the IT infrastructure and networks in their offices.
With remote work becoming essential, it poses major threats to network security, leaving a wealth of sensitive information vulnerable to opportunistic cybercriminals, thus making security one of the key concerns for both small and large organisations.
This is especially of concern in India, which is among the top targets for malicious cyberattacks in the world.
Endpoints such personal computers, printers, Wi-Fi routers and Internet of Things devices are on the frontline of the cybersecurity battleground.
In addition, investing in devices that come with advanced security features like in-built LTE connectivity, webcam kill switches and BIOS security should be top priority.
Further, companies should also look at counselling employees on security best practices while working remotely and mandating multi-factor authentication beyond mere passwords.
As concerns around the health situation grow, the central government too has mandated work-from-home for its staff in a staggered manner, and states are likely to follow suit.
While this is essential to ensure the safety of the staff, there will be a likely impact on the delivery of government services, as a large part of the government IT infrastructure is based around desktops.
Hence, it is critical that governments create a better mix of notebooks and desktop computers.
This will ensure government staff too is able to work seamlessly, and services to citizens are affected to the minimum degree possible.
Plan for the long term:
But the situations we face today, and their management has already thrown up scenarios that we are likely to face again in the future.
Risk management plans for both public and private enterprises will have to be reviewed, and infrastructure updated to provide mobility and flexibility in operations.
Security protocols too need to be addressed to cater to any such situations that may arise again.
The open, borderless world that we had so grown used to has been challenged, and businesses and governments have risen to it.
The government has announced relief measures. Last week, the Finance Minister announced a welfare package of Rs 1.7 lakh crore.
How will the government find funds for this package?
The windfall gains that have accrued to it as a result of the crash in crude oil prices could come in handy, the government could divert all subsidies and some development funds to fund this package and ask the country’s corpThis is too small to cope with the onslaught of the virus.
A package to compensate all losses, including business losses, should amount to at least Rs 5 to 6 lakh crore, if not more.
• orate leaders to help with funds.
The prime minister could even issue a clarion call to those with a fixed income (say above Rs 50,000/month) to voluntarily donate at least 10 per cent of their salaries to fund the battle against the virus.
Focus on the supply lines of the food:
But in this piece, we focus on the supply lines of food — what the government must do to ensure that people don’t go hungry and the measures it must take to make sure people don’t crowd a few outlets, increasing the chances of the virus spreading.
The government has announced that the beneficiaries of the public distribution system can avail three months’ ration at one go.
The challenge is to ensure that fair price shops deliver the provisions in an orderly manner and their supply lines remain intact.
Home (street) delivery of these provisions, to avoid crowding, is a good option.
This is also an occasion to rope in civil society. NGOs, resident welfare associations, religious organisations and paramilitary forces can be engaged for orderly and safe distribution of food — both pre-cooked and fresh.
NGOs with experience in food preparation and distribution, could guide local authorities.
People involved in this endeavour should be provided with safety gears.
The challenge, however, pertains to supplying perishables like fruits, vegetables and milk. These perishables must be sold in a packaged form in mobile vans.
The weekly markets need to be temporarily suspended lest they spread the virus — at such markets, people are known to do quality checks on vegetables by touching and feeling them.
Vegetable vendors can work with civil society organisations as well as e-commerce players to do this job in a safe manner.
Linked retail distribution with wholesale supply lines:
Retail distribution lines need to be seamlessly linked to wholesale supply lines.
Luckily, the government godowns are overflowing with wheat and rice — about 77 million metric tonnes (MMT) on March 1, against a buffer stock norm of 21.4 MMT on April 1. And, procurement operations for rabi crops are around the corner.
The FCI and other procuring agencies need to be trained about safety measures and supplied safety gear.
Farmers could be given Rs 50/quintal per month as an incentive to stagger bringing their produce to the market — say after May 10.
When things settle, it will be worth knowing how the virus spread from Wuhan to Iran, Italy, Washington, India and other parts of the world.
Which organisation or nation failed to blow the whistle and alert the world in time? Was it China’s failure? Or that of WHO? Or was it the failure of all governments around the world to respond quickly to the outbreak?
We need better global governance for pandemics to avert the next crisis.
Reverse migration of workers raised new concerns (The Hindu)
Mains Paper 2:Governance
Prelims level: The Inter State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1979
Mains level:Welfare for the migrate workers
The Home Ministry’s announcement on Sunday evening to seal inter-State and inter-district borders, following the appalling exodus of thousands of workers from the Capital, underscores the lack of prior preparation in implementing the three-week nationwide lockdown.
However, this lapse in implementation also underscores a larger problem: of the informal, migrant workforce not being effectively covered under any welfare or other forms of State protection.
The Inter State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1979, spells out the rights of unorganised sectors and the duties of contractors and the State.
The more recent Unorganised Workers’ Social Security Act, 2008, an outcome of the report prepared by National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector, is by all accounts a watered-down piece of legislation which has not been seriously implemented.
These laws must be strengthened.
An important reform measure that brooks no delay is the implementation of the ‘one nation one ration card’ scheme, which could arguably have contained this fear of the future as well as the sudden descent to hunger.
According to the Economic Survey 2016-17: “The first-ever estimates of internal work-related migration using railways data for the period 2011-2016 indicate an annual average flow of close to 9 million people between the states.” This population falls between the cracks of schemes announced by the Centre and the States.
Political pardon: On Sri Lankan soldier’s release (The Hindu)
Mains Paper 2:International
Prelims level: Mirusuvil massacre
Mains level:India and its neighbourhood relations
The grant of presidential pardon, on Thursday, to a Sri Lankan soldier on death row for murdering eight Tamil villagers has sparked justified outrage among those who have been demanding justice from the state for past crimes.
Far from helping the cause of accountability for war-time atrocities, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has gone the other way to nullify a rare instance of justice being ensured by Sri Lanka’s judicial system.
Not many army men have been brought to book for attacks on civilians; but, in what came to be known as the ‘Mirusuvil massacre’, military police had immediately detained the soldiers involved, thus denying them impunity.
The victims included three boys aged five, 13 and 15. In December 2000, a group of internally displaced villagers had come to have a look at their war-ravaged homes at Mirusuvil in the Jaffna peninsula.
They ran into some army men, who led them away blindfolded. Their bodies were later found in a sewer, with their throats slit.
The only one who escaped later led the military police to the spot and turned a crucial witness. Five soldiers were indicted, and a special provision for having a trial before a bench of three high court judges was invoked.
The plodding trial ended in 2015 with only one of them, Sunil Ratnayake, being found guilty. He was sentenced to death, but there is a moratorium on executions since 1976.
It hardly needs emphasis that the exercise of the power of pardon is an act of compassion, and not a tool for political or electoral messaging.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has sent out a message to his vast body of supporters among the Sinhalese that he would not let ‘war heroes’ languish in prison, even if it means that the minority Tamils get a chilling message that substantive justice for war crimes will always elude them.
Even when rendered, it could be undone with a stroke of the pen.
There is also an electoral angle to the decision, as parliamentary polls were set for April 25, but have now been postponed in view of the global pandemic.
The process of granting pardon may have been going on in the run-up to the polls. Sri Lanka’s Constitution lays down a procedure that says the President must get a report from the trial judge, the Attorney General’s advice on that, and a recommendation from the Minister for Justice before he can pardon a convict.
However, there appears to be no rule that such advice or recommendation is binding.
Apart from some domestic voices from the Tamil leadership and individual politicians, the UN Human Rights High Commissioner and rights watchdog bodies have questioned the release of the soldier, rightly calling it an affront to the victims.
The pardon, granted at a time when the country’s focus is on fighting COVID-19, is a serious setback to hopes that accountability could be brought about in Sri Lanka through domestic mechanisms.
Mains Paper 2:International Relations
Prelims level: G20
Mains level:Outcome from G20 meetings on economic slowdowns
The coronavirus’s flight across the world at lightning speed, has exposed the total void in collective leadership at the global level.
Three months into the catastrophic war declared by an invisible, almost invincible virus, that is rapidly gobbling up human lives, regardless of citizenship and race, and contemptuously ravaging economies across continents, there is as yet no comprehensive, concerted plan of action, orchestrated by global leaders, to combat this terror.
The G20 has just had a virtual meeting, we understand, at the prodding of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
It is encouraging to learn that the G20 leaders have agreed to inject $5-trillion into the world economy to partially counter the devastating economic impact of the pandemic.
This is indeed good news. But taking collective ownership to fight a global war against the virus will require a lot more than writing cheques.
Good war, bad enemy
World leaders are obviously overwhelmed with their own national challenges and do not appear inclined to view the pandemic as a common enemy against mankind, which it is.
China delayed reporting the virus to the World Health Organisation (WHO), and perhaps, in the process, contributed to the exacerbation of the spread of the virus across the globe.
It was reported that the Trump administration did not even inform the European Union before it shut off flights from Europe.
It must be acknowledged that the initiative taken by Mr. Modi in the early days to convene a meeting of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation countries stands out in contrast to the pusillanimous leadership around the world.
Two developments in the global polity in the last few years have contributed to the indifference towards collective global action.
One, the swing towards right-wing nationalism, as a guiding political ideology, in large swathes of the world, particularly in the U.S.
This ideology posits ‘global good’ being in conflict with and inimical to national interests. The dramatic announcement by U.S. President Trump, in June 2017, that the U.S. will cease involvement from the Paris Accord on climate change, preparatory to full withdrawal after the mandatory period, on the ground that the accord will ‘undermine U.S. economic interest’ is a classic demonstration of narrow nationalism trumping global interests.
There is no issue more global than climate change, and yet the U.S. Administration chose to look at it from the prism of national, short-term economic interest.
Atrophy of multilateral institutions:
The United Nations was the outcome of the shared vision of the world leaders after World War II, that collective action is the only way forward to prevent the occurrence of another war.
That institution has notoriously failed to live up to its expectations to maintain peace among nations in the nearly 80 years since its formation.
Its affiliate organisations have, in several ways, failed to deliver on their lofty missions.
In particular, WHO, which has as its objective ‘to be the directing and coordinating authority among member countries in health emergencies’, has proven to be too lethargic in reacting to pandemics in the past. Its responses to COVID-19, has come under the scanner, not merely for incompetence, but also for lack of intellectual integrity.
If the world leaders realise the relevance and critical importance of collective global action in the context of the present pandemic, it is not difficult to contrive an appropriate mechanism quickly to get into war.
A nimble outfit, not burdened with bureaucracy, is required to manage a global crisis of the nature that we are confronted with, today.
The G20, with co-option of other affected countries, itself might serve the purpose for the present.
Addressing shortage of drugs and medical equipment:
The collective should ensure that shortages of drugs, medical equipment and protective gear do not come in the way of any nation’s capacity to contain or fight the pandemic.
It is very likely that some nations that have succeeded in bringing the pandemic under control, such as China, Japan or South Korea, might have the capability to step up production at short notice to meet the increasing demand from other countries which are behind the curve.
This would typically involve urgent development of an information exchange on global production capacity, present and potential, demand and supply.
This is not to mean that there should be centralised management, which is not only infeasible, but counterproductive, as the attendant bureaucracy will impede quick action.
A common information exchange could restrain the richer countries from predatory contracting of global capacities.
The protocols might need to be put in place among participating countries to ensure seamless logistics for the supply chain for essential goods and services to function efficiently.
This might be particularly necessary in the context of controls on international traffic and national shutdowns.
There would need to be concomitant accord to eliminate all kinds of tariff and non tariff barriers.
Information exchange is vital
There needs to be instantaneous exchange of authenticated information on what clinical solutions have succeeded and what has not.
An example is the issue relating to hydroxychloroquine, which is being used experimentally, bypassing the rigours of randomised clinical trials.
While there is no substitute to classic clinical proof, the more field-level information is shared within the medical community, the better will be the success rates of such experimentation.
Cross-country collaboration on laboratory trials:
This is a time to have cross-country collaboration on laboratory trials and clinical validation for vaccines and anti-viral drugs. It must be acknowledged that WHO has already moved on this issue, although, perhaps, belatedly.
The world can ill-afford delays, as the pandemic is predicted to stage a comeback once the shutdowns are gradually relaxed. The best way to ensure speedy research is to pool global resources.
Any effort at reinventing the wheel will only delay the outcomes. This attempt to collaborate might also bring in its wake an acceptable commercial solution that adequately incentivises private research, while ensuring benefits being available to the entire world at affordable costs.
Such a framework might be necessary for sustained collaborations for future challenges.
There is a need to facilitate easy movement of trained health professionals across the world to train others and augment resources wherever there are shortages.
In other words, nations should come together to organise a global army to fight the pandemic, equipped with the best weapons and tools.
We must anticipate food shortages occurring sooner or later, in some part of the world, consequent to the national shutdowns.
Ironically, while we might have saved lives from the assault of the novel coronavirus, we might run the risk of losing lives to starvation and malnutrition, somewhere in the world if we do not take adequate precautions.
This requires not only coordinated global action; it would also turn out to be the test of global concern for mankind in general.
There is no doubt that human talent will triumph over the microscopic virus. It may be some months before we declare our win.
But the economic devastation, that would have been caused as a result will be no less than the aftermath of a world war.
Economies of the world are inexorably intertwined.
An orderly reconstruction of the global economy, which is equitable and inclusive, will eventually involve renegotiating terms of trade among key trading blocs, concerted action among central bankers to stabilise currencies, and a responsible way to regulate and manage global commodity markets.
What is noteworthy about the package is not the amount but the innovative ways in which the government is seeking to offer relief.
It covers various sections of the vulnerable, ranging from farmers and women Jan Dhan account holders, to organised sector workers, to the most important of all — healthcare workers, who will now get a sizeable insurance cover of ₹50 lakh.
The doubling of foodgrain allocation offered free is a good idea that privileges the hungry poor over rodents and pests devouring the stocks in Food Corporation of India godowns.
So is the move to provide free cooking gas refills to the underprivileged who are part of the PM Ujjwala scheme.
The offer to pay both employer and employee contributions to the Provident Fund for very small business enterprises is welcome.
It will offer relief to those businesses that have been forced to shut down operations, and also to employees earning small salaries for whom the PF deduction may hurt at this point in time.
The salary limit could have been set higher at ₹25,000 per month — there’s no cash outgo for the government anyway because this is just a book entry transaction.
How can India contain the economic impact of COVID-19? (The Hindu)
Mains Paper 3: Economic
Prelims level: COVID-19 pandemic
Mains level: Economic impact of COVID-19 on India
The COVID-19 pandemic has effectively brought normal life to a halt in India.
The importance of social distancing and a lockdown in curbing the spread of the virus cannot be stressed enough, but these measures also have huge repercussions on livelihoods and the economy at large, which has already been seeing a slowdown over the past year.
In a conversation moderated by Vikas Dhoot, Naushad Forbes and M. Govinda Rao talk of ways in which India can tackle this humanitarian and economic crisis.
Do you see a parallel in recent history to the situation we face globally due to the novel coronavirus?
This is the mother of all challenges in recent memory. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) says that the 2008 financial crisis comes close, but I think this is much bigger than that.
Possibly, one has to go to the times of the Great Depression. Even qualitatively, it’s a very different challenge, because first you have to save lives, then you have to save livelihoods, then you have to meet with other costs like loss of jobs and production, and supply chain disruptions.
It’s not just confined to one sector or country; it encompasses the entire economy and the world.
So, I think there is no immediate policy instrument that you can put in place because you don’t even know how long the problem will last.
The depth of the problem that you are going to face is dependent on the length of the period for which you are going to close down and the extent to which the virus spreads.
Every country is either already deeply affected or is at the start of being more affected.
This is unprecedented in terms of its immediate impact on the lives of individuals from all walks of life.
We have a few additional factors in India: an economy which relies very heavily on informal employment, so our reliance for people’s well-being on the broader economy performing and the markets performing is high, whatever role the state may try to play.
And anything that you change in the functioning of the economy has unintended effects.
We sometimes have, I think, a tendency to act and then plan. I worry about that. For example, on Saturday, all manufacturing companies in Pune were told to shut down.
On Sunday, all trains were stopped. And on Monday, all companies were told, ‘Look, you must keep supporting your staff and contract workers.’
Now, the sequence should have been the reverse: first, you work out which companies will ensure support for everyone across the board and how. Then you stop the trains so that you contain populations [moving].
And then you close the actual sources of employment. If you do it in the opposite sequence, you end up with what we saw on Saturday and Sunday, which is thousands of people crowding into train and bus stations, heading out of town, potentially spreading the virus across the country.
This is obviously an unintended consequence.
We sometimes act first without going into what we actually want to achieve.
The way to achieve ‘social distancing’ is not to announce something which then brings suddenly crowds of people together in a panic [but] to do something for their own security, well-being and longer-term success.
A little bit of thought before we act would really help.
Over the last few days, both the formal and informal sector have come to to a virtual halt. Lakhs of truckers are held up across States and most manufacturing firms have shut down. How will this impact our output and incomes?
Everything’s come to a halt. The lockdown is the right thing to do for the country. From everything one reads, [we get the idea that] a lockdown is the way to ensure social distancing and contain the virus.
How do you then limit the economic impact and who do you need to buffer the impact for? Without question, it is the people who are most vulnerable, those who live from day to day and have no savings to fall back on.
Then you look at medium to small companies with very limited staying power. The only way they can actually survive is by not paying people. You don’t want that to happen, otherwise you’d spread that distress in the economy.
You need to address their concerns, either through moratoriums on principal and interest payments or direct salary support, as we’ve seen happen in the U.K., Switzerland and France, to ensure some employment is sustained.
Then you need to extend it to larger labor-intensive companies if they employ 20,000 people and if they don’t have enough money to pay salaries next month we’re going to see something rather critical happen within a week.
One of the biggest problems in the system is the capacity of the state to deal with the problem. The reaction that we have is a knee-jerk reaction. Today, you cannot worry about issues such as fiscal deficit.
You have to save people’s lives. There is a 21-day lockdown and redistribution is a major issue. Thankfully, you have a much better targeting device [Jan-Dhan accounts and Aadhaar] than before. Augmenting the state’s capacity... I don’t know how you’re going to do it.
At 8 p.m., the Prime Minister says we are closing down for 21 days, and everyone runs to the shops and panics. Couldn’t this have been done in a smoother way?
One could have said essential supplies will be available — simply saying there’s a lakshman rekha outside your house, that really scares people.
The immediate issue is to focus on health, which we have never done, and see how you can establish the public health system. And the second is livelihood issues.
Regulatory compliance deadlines have been extended, but non-performing asset recognition norms remain 90 days (of defaults). Would you say this regulatory forbearance is sufficient?
It’s a classic case of ‘necessary but not sufficient’. These are all the right things to do.
You can have regulatory forbearance and extend regulatory forbearance for returns that have to be filed, but if there is some question on whether you will survive long enough to file your returns, then you need to address that.
If we start by recognising that we have very limited state capacity, then we can think about how to get the desired outcome with an assumption of limited state capacity.
For example, I would like to see a massive publicity campaign on what social distancing means and why it’s important to do. Regardless of what announcement comes, people should know not to crowd outside a shop together.
And if my action in announcing something is going to prompt just this, let me first send out all the reassurances that grocery stores will be open.
The government has said that, but if you read the actual notification, it doesn’t say how groceries will get to homes.
There are some vague references to it being delivered. That sounds to me like a horrendous task to take on if state capacity is limited... delivering groceries to 1.3 billion people. Instead, rely on people going and doing the right thing.
So, you say, ‘grocery stores are going to be open and here are the rules under which people can go and buy groceries.
Grocery stores can decide for themselves if they wish to be open 24 hours. We will allow a maximum of so many people per square foot.
A lot of things can now be done at home with online trading. To the extent that crowds can be avoided, it is important. But that doesn’t mean that you should shut down the stock market. It is a barometer... in the immediate context, it may not tell you what your economy’s doing if something is happening the world over. But you don’t kill the messenger, it gives you a message.
Three weeks from now, what would be the best-case scenario for us to be in?
We should, by the way, do some scenario planning for what’s the best- and worst-case scenario and what’s in between.
For those scenarios, we must have action plans in place that are transparent so people can prepare accordingly.
The best-case scenario to me is that the three-week lockdown delivers. We shouldn’t expect the rising trend of cases to change for a minimum of 10 days before a successful lockdown can have an effect (because of the gestation of the virus).
The best-case scenario is that 10 days from now, we start seeing a flattening of the growth rate. A few more days later, we see the curve starting to turn down.
Then we can say the lockdown is working, now how do we start working towards recovery. We should put those plans in place now.
We will not go back to normal from day one, where everyone can do whatever they wished.
Can all manufacturing start again? Does everyone show up at work all at once?
If you have the curve pointing down sharply, maybe 50% can come back and we’ll see for another two or three weeks how that sustains.
Shops can open again, but with limited operations and all the social distancing in place. You probably should not allow anything which involves mass gatherings of people even in the best-case scenario.
So, you’re not going to have large conferences, movie theatres, sports stadiums. Those will come last. I really think there’s a lot of value in this plan being as transparent as possible.
The first thing that the government will have to do immediately is massively ramp up testing. We have not done enough testing as yet and do not know the magnitude of the problem.
Even if you take the best-case scenario after three weeks, this will be different in different places.
You may have to look at differential relaxations in a calibrated and transparent manner and say that areas with these trends can allow some of these activities.
My own feeling is that after 21 days, there will be some areas where you can have economic activities without much movement, and restrictions will have to continue elsewhere.
But we should be prepared for the long haul. Life is not going to be easy.
My big concern is about children not going to school. Some from well-off families may learn on the computer, but what about those children who cannot go to school, can’t play, or do anything.
About 40% of the population is in the age group of zero to 14. We really have a crisis brewing there.
Mains Paper 2: Governance
Prelims level: Covid 19
Mains level: Welfare schemes for the vulnerable sections
The human dimensions of the COVID-19 pandemic reach far beyond the critical health response.
All aspects of our future will be affected — economic, social and developmental.
Our response must be urgent, coordinated and on a global scale, and should immediately deliver help to those most in need.
From workplaces, to enterprises, to national and global economies, getting this right is predicated on social dialogue between government and those on the front line — the employers and workers, so that the 2020s don’t become a re-run of the 1930s.
As governments try to flatten the upward curve of infection, we need special measures to protect the millions of health and care workers (most of them women) who risk their own health for us every day.
Truckers and seafarers, who deliver medical equipment and other essentials, must be adequately protected.
Teleworking offers new opportunities for workers to keep working, and employers to continue their businesses through the crisis.
However, workers must be able to negotiate these arrangements so that they retain balance with other responsibilities, such as caring for children, the sick or the elderly, and of course, themselves.
Many countries have already introduced unprecedented stimulus packages to protect their societies and economies and keep cash flowing to workers and businesses.
To maximise the effectiveness of those measures, it is essential for governments to work with employers’ organisations and trade unions to come up with practical solutions, which keep people safe and to protect jobs.
In these most difficult of times, I recall a principle set out in the ILO’s Constitution:
“Poverty anywhere remains a threat to prosperity everywhere.”
It reminds us that, in years to come, the effectiveness of our response to this existential threat may be judged not just by the scale and speed of the cash injections, or whether the recovery curve is flat or steep, but by what we did for the most vulnerable among us.
This is a barefaced attempt by the Islamic State (IS) to revive its fortunes in the country at a time when it is politically divided and the peace process is hamstrung by the Taliban’s continuing violence.
The IS, which is concentrated in the eastern parts of Afghanistan, carried out several attacks in the past targeting the country’s minorities.
But, in recent months, the jihadist group suffered setbacks in the wake of sustained military operations by both Afghan and U.S. troops.
In some parts, the Taliban had also attacked the IS, as the insurgents, who are tribal Islamist nationalists, see the latter as a threat.
But the war-torn country’s security situation is as fluid as ever.
It now has two governments, one led by Ashraf Ghani, who was declared winner of the September presidential election, and the other by Abdullah Abdullah, who has disputed the results and formed a rival administration.
The peace agreement reached between the Taliban and the U.S. failed to bring any halt to violence, with the insurgents and the government not being able to reach an understanding even on a prisoner swap.
Besides, the country has also seen a jump in the number of SARS-CoV-2 infections, with the Herat Province, which shares a border with Iran, emerging as the epicentre. The attack couldn’t have come at a worse time.
Afghanistan is notorious for violence against its minority communities.
The Hazara Shias were brutalised during the Taliban regime in 1996-2001. Most Hindus and Sikhs, once spread across the country in hundreds of thousands, have fled the country.
With the resurgence of the Taliban and the fear of the insurgents taking over Kabul and undermining the Constitution, which at least in theory guarantees rights to all communities, the remaining minority groups are already in an abandoned state.
By attacking the gurdwara and an adjacent housing complex, the IS has not just terrified the country’s minorities further, but sent a message to the Afghan authorities that it remains a potent security threat.
Afghanistan has too many problems, ranging from terrorism to the breakdown of the administration, which demands absolute resolve from the government.
But, unfortunately, the country’s political leadership appears to be concerned less about resolving any of them than about keeping power.
The leadership should realise the magnitude of this crisis, and take a united approach to tackle it.
It should kick-start the peace process with the Taliban, fight the IS cells more aggressively and work towards at least ensuring the minimum rights of its citizens guaranteed by the Constitution.
However, the IS attack is another reminder that there is no end to the Afghan violence in sight.
This chain is best broken by the simple act of handwashing with soap, and this has been correctly projected as the silver bullet in our collective battle against this global health catastrophe.
The message that washing one’s hands thoroughly with soap for 20 seconds neutralises the virus is being promoted by several stakeholders the world over — governments, multilateral agencies, private sector participants, media and entertainment channels, and even celebrities.
And there is little doubt that these efforts are paying off and that many more people are washing their hands with soap much more frequently than they were in the past.
It is little known that this simple practice is extremely effective against several other viruses and diseases as well.
Research has time and again shown the direct causality between the reduction of diseases and regular handwashing with soap, especially at critical times of pre-meals, post-defecation and pre-feeding babies.
According to UNICEF, handwashing at the aforementioned critical times can save millions of lives, especially of children below five, by reducing diarrhoea rates by more than 40 per cent.
Moreover, handwashing not only reduces the rate of infection but also keeps children in school, since they are not staying home due to illness.
It is also estimated that the rates of handwashing with soap at these critical moments is very low the world over — ranging from zero per cent to 34 per cent.
Sustainability this habit:
There have been several efforts in the past by various stakeholders to promote handwashing and hygiene.
There has been momentum generated on the subject at the time of previous epidemics in the 21st century — during SARS and Swine Flu.
On both occasions, handwashing with soap became fashionable in parts of the world most affected by the diseases, but failed to sustain and become ingrained as a habit for posterity.
This can be partially attributed to the fact that once the threat of the diseases had faded, there was not enough follow-through in terms of sustained behaviour change communication on the subject.
Slowly, people returned to their old ways, with the need for handwashing not being as apparent anymore.
This time, however, there has been a multi-stakeholder barrage of communication on the subject like never before, and more countries are affected by coronavirus than any pandemic in recent memory.
In this threat is also an opportunity for the world — to make handwashing with soap the default behaviour and a key public health objective, even after the threat of the virus is behind us. This time, the behaviour change can and must be sustained.
Today, in India, we have a comparative advantage with respect to large scale behaviour change, having implemented perhaps the largest ever social revolution the world has ever seen — the Swachh Bharat Mission.
Over 55 crore people have changed their habit of open defecation and have started using toilets. This has come about because the people adopted the programme as their own and made it a true jan andolan.
Today, the focus is on sustaining the changed behaviour — that of using toilets and stopping defecating in the open.
It will still take a lot of effort, but the commitment to do so is there and the behaviour change communication and the capacity building at the local level will continue.
The government has also developed a 10-year strategy on rural sanitation and is increasing the scope of swachhata from ODF to ODF Plus, which includes solid and liquid waste management.
Just as we are today collectively promoting handwashing with soap to fight the coronavirus, we must continue to work together to ensure that this habit sticks.
It should not take a pandemic to promote hygiene behaviour. It saves lives even in not-so-desperate times.
Automated Facial Recognition System can play a very vital role in improving outcomes in the area of Criminal identification and verification by facilitating easy recording, analysis, retrieval and sharing of Information between different organisations.
While fingerprints and iris scans provide far more accurate matching results, automatic facial recognition is an easier solution especially for identification amongst crowds.
The integration of fingerprint database, face recognition software and iris scans will massively boost the police department’s crime investigation capabilities.
It will also help civilian verification when needed. No one will be able to get away with a fake ID.
NCRB has proposed integrating this facial recognition system with multiple existing databases.
The most prominent is the NCRB-managed Crime and Criminal Tracking Network & Systems (CCTNS).
Facial recognition has been proposed in the CCTNS program since its origin.
The new facial recognition system will be integrated with Integrated Criminal Justice System (ICJS), as well as state-specific systems, the Immigration, Visa and Foreigners Registration and Tracking (IVFRT), and the Khoya Paya portal on missing children.
What are the concerns around using facial recognition?
Cyber experts across the world have cautioned against government abuse of facial recognition technology, as it can be used as tool of control and risks inaccurate results.
Amid NCRB’s controversial step to install an automated facial recognition system, India should take note of the ongoing privacy debate in the US.
In the US, the FBI and Department of State operate one of the largest facial recognition systems.
International organisations have also condemned the Chinese government on its use of surveillance cameras and facial recognition to constrict the rights of Uighurs, a mostly Muslim minority.
The economic status of a country influences implementation of its policies.
As India is a lower-middle-income country with a healthcare expenditure that is consistently below 1.5% of the GDP, it needs to be prudent and pragmatic in its approach to withstand it in the event of community spread.
Therefore, the government must focus on continued surveillance, prompt diagnosis and adopt robust treatment modalities to reduce morbidity and mortality.
Misinformation, especially on the use of facial masks, alternative medicine, and availability of a cure, should be avoided.
With limited resources, India requires protection gear such as three-layered facial masks for its healthcare workers and for those in service industries.
There is no vaccine to fight the virus yet. Randomised controlled trials for antiviral treatment are difficult to execute during pandemics.
Researchers need to make tough choices during clinical trials, while ensuring the safety of the patients.
Medication was elusive in the past for H1N1, HIV and many other viral illnesses but the human mind proved invincible. Anti-COVID-19 drugs may be available sooner than later.
The true incidence of the disease is still unknown.
Evidence from the identified cases worldwide suaggest that 80% of the infections will be mild with people having flu-like symptoms, about 15% will be severe requiring hospitalisation due to breathlessness or pneumonia, 3-5% will require ventilatory support, and about 1% will succumb to the virus.
Studies of hate crimes in India show that they have steadily risen over the past five years.
Amnesty International India documented 721 such incidents between 2015 and 2018.
Last year alone, it tracked 218 hate crimes, 142 of which were against Dalits, 50 against Muslims, 40 against women, and eight each against Christians, Adivasis, and transgenders.
The more common hate crimes, they found, were honour killings that have sadly occurred for decades and ‘cow-related violence’, that was rare earlier but has become more frequent over the past five years.
These facts are striking enough to concern any government.
The Prime Minister expressed pain at the sickening murder of Tabrez Ansari in Jharkhand, but clearly far more is required.
The Rajasthan administration is introducing a Bill prohibiting cow vigilantism, but that deals with only one hate crime.
An omnibus act against all hate crimes, including hate speech, is required across India and should be a priority of the 17th Lok Sabha.
Germany, for example, amended Section 46 of its Criminal Procedure Code, dealing with sentencing in violent crime, to say the sentence must be based on consideration of ‘the motives and aims of the offender, particularly where they are of a racist or xenophobic nature or where they show contempt for human dignity’.
We have a number of sections in the Indian Penal Code that can be used to punish or even prevent hate crime, but they are disparate and few policemen are aware of them.
Those that are, fear to use them in areas whose political leaders mobilise through hate speech.
In 2018, the Supreme Court directed Central and State governments to make it widely known that lynching and mob violence would ‘invite serious consequence under the law’ (Tehseen S. Poonawalla v. Union of India and Ors).
Then Home Minister Rajnath Singh told Parliament that the government had formed a panel to suggest measures to tackle mob violence, and would enact a law if necessary.
The panel’s recommendations are not in the public domain, and acts of hate crime do not appear to have diminished in the year since Mr. Singh’s promise.
In a May 2019 report, Human Rights Watch India pointed out that only some States had complied with the Supreme Court’s orders to designate a senior police officer in every district to prevent incidents of mob violence and ensure that the police take prompt action, including safety for witnesses; set up fast-track courts in such cases; and take action against policemen or officials who failed to comply.
Those State governments that did comply, the report commented, did so only partially. In several instances, the police actually obstructed investigations, even filing charges against the victims.
Whether it is political hate speech or police bias on the ground, there is little doubt that the national bar against hate crime has been lowered.
On television, we see replays of hate speech and videos of lynching.
Though the accompanying commentary is critical, repeated iterations normalise the hateful. Indeed, anchors themselves resort to invective far more often than before note how Kashmiris are routinely heckled and abused on talk shows.
One of the policy issues that is high on the Modi administration’s list is dealing with incitement to violence through social media.
But the focus is on hate in relation to terrorism, and it is unclear whether government policy will extend to cover hate crime.
Important as it is to do so, the digital media is not the only offender. In fact, there are several obvious steps which would be easier to take and yield more immediate results than regulation of the digital media.
Parliament could enact an omnibus act against hate crime, and the Home Minister could set benchmarks for policemen and administrators to deal with hate crime.
The legislature and political parties could suspend or dismiss members who are implicated in hate crimes or practise hate speech.
The electronic and print media could stop showing or publishing hateful comments and threats.
Priests could preach the values of tolerance and respect that are common to all religions and schools could revitalise courses on the directive principles of our Constitution.
For a demographically diverse country such as India, hate crimes — including crimes of contempt — are a disaster.
Each of our religious and caste communities number in the millions, and crimes that are directed against any of these groups could result in a magnitude of disaffection that impels violence, even terrorism.
Far less diverse countries than India are already suffering the result of hate ‘moving into the mainstream’, as UN Secretary General António Guterres recently highlighted.
Mains Paper 2: National
Prelims level: Malnutrition
Mains level: Malnutrition problems and prevention
A new report, ‘Food and Nutrition Security Analysis, India, 2019’, authored by the Government of India and the United Nations World Food Programme, paints a picture of hunger and malnutrition amongst children in large pockets of India.
It raises moral and ethical questions about the nature of a state and society that, after 70 years of independence, still condemns hundreds of millions of its poorest and vulnerable citizens to lives of hunger and desperation.
And it once again forces us to ask why despite rapid economic growth, declining levels of poverty, enough food to export, and a multiplicity of government programmes, malnutrition amongst the poorest remains high.
Many studies over the last five years have exposed the failure of the Indian state to ensure that its most vulnerable citizens are provided adequate nutrition in their early years.
India has long been home to the largest number of malnourished children in the world. Some progress has been made in reducing the extent of malnutrition.
The proportion of children with chronic malnutrition decreased from 48% percent in 2005-06 to 38.4% in 2015-16.
The percentage of underweight children decreased from 42.5% to 35.7% over the same period.
Anaemia in young children decreased from 69.5% to 58.5% during this period.
An ambitious target:
The government’s National Nutrition Mission (renamed as Poshan Abhiyaan) aims to reduce stunting (a measure of malnutrition that is defined as height that is significantly below the norm for age) by 2% a year, bringing down the proportion of stunted children in the population to 25% by 2022. But even this modest target will require doubling the current annual rate of reduction in stunting.
The minutes of recent meetings of the Executive Committee of Poshan Abhiyaan do not inspire much confidence about whether this can be achieved.
A year after it was launched, State and Union Territory governments have only used 16% of the funds allocated to them.
Fortified rice and milk were to be introduced in one district per State by March this year.
But the minutes of a March 29 meeting showed that this had not been done, and officials in charge of public distribution had not yet got their act together.
Or, as the minutes put it, “The matter is under active consideration of the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution”.
Anganwadis are key to the distribution of services to mothers and children. But many States, including Bihar and Odisha, which have large vulnerable populations, are struggling to set up functioning anganwadis, and recruit staff.
The key to ending the tragedy of child nutrition lies with a handful of State governments: the highest levels of stunted and underweight children are found in Jharkand, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Maharashtra. Malnutrition is a reflection of age-old patterns of social and economic exclusion.
Over 40% of children from Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes are stunted. Close to 40% of children from the Other Backward Classes are stunted.
The lack of nutrition in their childhood years can reduce their mental as well as physical development and condemn them to a life in the margins of society.
Stunting and malnourishment starts not with the child, but with the mother.
An adolescent girl who is malnourished and anaemic tends to be a mother who is malnourished and anaemic. This in turn increased the chances of her child being stunted.
The famines are caused not by shortages of food, but by inadequate access to food. And for the poor and marginalised, access to food is impeded by social, administrative and economic barriers.
In the case of children and their mothers, this could be anything from non-functioning or neglectful governments at the State, district and local levels to entrenched social attitudes that see the poor and marginalised as less than equal citizens who are meant to be an underclass and are undeserving of government efforts to provide them food and lift them out of poverty.
A lot of attention has focussed on the government’s aim of turning India into a $5 trillion economy in the next five years.
Whether this will achieved is a matter for debate. But these declarations only serve to obscure a larger reality.
There is a large section of society, the poorest two-fifths of the country’s population, that is still largely untouched by the modern economy which the rest of the country inhabits.
As one part of the country lives in a 21st century economy, ordering exotic cuisines over apps, another part struggles with the most ancient of realities: finding enough to eat to tide them over till the next day.
Mains Paper 3: Environment
Prelims level: Dongria Kondh tribe
Mains level: Highlighting the global assessment of biodiversity
The Dongria Kondh tribe of Niyamgiri Hills are among the best conservationists in the world.
Known for the spirited defence of their forested habitat against short-sighted industrialisation, they have through millennia evolved a lifestyle that is in perfect harmony with nature.
Across India, there are scores of indigenous people who have managed to lead meaningful lives without wanton destruction of natural ecosystems.
These tribes, along with marginalised communities living on the fringes of forests and millions of smallholder farmers, are the best hope that India has to preserve biodiversity and ensure food security.
At a time when nature faces the threat of another mass extinction of species, their importance cannot be emphasised enough because they offer us solutions to avert an imminent meltdown.
Mains Paper 3:Security
Prelims level: Cyber security
Mains level:Challenges towards Cyber security
The report by a German cybersecurity firm that medicaldetails of millions of Indian patients were leaked and arefreely available on the Internet is worrying.
Associated risk of the breach:
Medical details (inmillions) of Indian patients has the potential to be minedfor deeper data analysis and for creating profiles thatcould be used for-social engineering, phishing, onlineidentity theft, other practices that thrive on theavailability of such data on the Darknet.
Absence of anysecurity in the Picture Archiving and CommunicationsSystems (PACS) servers used by medical professionals;Server to have been connected to the public Internetwithout protection.
Key analysis in detail:
Public data leaks have been quite common in India —from government websites enabling the download ofAadhaar numbers to electoral data rolls beingdownloaded in bulk, among others.
India still lacks a comprehensive legal framework toprotect data privacy, unlike the data protectionregulations in place in the European Union and in theU.S.
The Draft Personal Data Protection Bill 2019 is still to betabled but could enable protection of privacy.
The draft Bill follows up on the provisions submitted by acommittee of experts chaired by Justice B.N. Srikrishnato the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technologyin 2018.
The committee sought to codify the relationship betweenindividuals and firms/state institutions as one between“data principals” (whose information is collected) and“data fiduciaries” (those processing the data) so thatprivacy is safeguarded by design.
While the 2019 version of the Bill seeks to retain theintent and many of the recommendations of the JusticeSrikrishna committee, it has also diluted a few provisions.For example, while the Bill tasks the fiduciary to seek theconsent in a free, informed, specific, clear form (andwhich is capable of being withdrawn later) from theprincipal, it has removed the proviso from the 2018version of the Bill that said selling or transferringsensitive personal data by the fiduciary to a third party isan offence.
There are other substantive issues with the Bill pertainingto the situations when state institutions are grantedexemption from seeking consent from principals toprocess or obtain their information.
Mains Paper 3:Security
Prelims level: Data Privacy
Mains level:Data privacy and threat from protection
In a first anywhere in the world, a court in the Netherlandsrecently stopped a digital identification scheme for reasonsof exclusion.
The Dutch Ministry of Social Affairs developed SyRI(System Risk Indicator) in 2014 to weed out those who
are most likely to commit fraud and receive governmentbenefits.
The legislation allowed government agencies to share 17categories of data with a private company (TheIntelligence Agency).
The company used an algorithm to analyse data andcalculate risk scores. The selective rollout was conductedin low-income and immigrant neighbourhoods, whichhave a higher number of beneficiaries.
Elevated riskscores were sent to relevant government arms, whichstores these on government databases for a maximum oftwo years. The government, in that time period, couldopen an investigation on the targeted person.
Similar to the Supreme Court’s Aadhaar judgment settinglimits on the ID’s usage, the Hague Court attempted tobalance social interest with personal privacy.
The ruling is also an example of how a data protectionregulation can be used against government surveillance.
India’s pending data protection regulation, beinganalysed by a Joint Select Committee in Parliament,would give broad exemptions to government dataprocessing in its current form. Some members of thecommittee have decided to take up governmentsurveillance in the upcoming deliberative meetings.
India’s proposed regulation is similar to the US in theloopholes that could be potentially exploited. Hence,attempts to ban facial recognition in cities such as SanFrancisco have not had the same success as attempts inEurope.
Have other countries taken note of the Dutch court ruling?
Digital ID systems are being rolled out at a fast pace inplaces like Kenya, Philippines, Nigeria, Mexico, and more.
Experts worldwide have been watching the Netherlandscase throughout, and agree that the ruling will ripplebeyond.
The UN Special Rapporteur, Philip Alston, said: “Thisdecision sets a strong legal precedent for other courts tofollow. This is one of the first times a court anywhere hasstopped the use of digital technologies and abundantdigital information by welfare authorities on humanrights grounds.”
The UK chairman of the House of Commons, StephenTimms, said: “This ruling by the Dutch courtsdemonstrates that parliaments ought to look very closelyat the ways in which governments use technology in thesocial security system, to protect the rights of theircitizens.”
The Government of India should enact a privacylegislation that clearly defines the rights of citizensconsistent with the constitutional provisions.
The government should factor in privacy risks andinclude procedures and systems to protect citizeninformation in any system of data collection.
An institutional mechanism such as PrivacyCommissioner should be created to preventunauthorised disclosure of or access to such data.
Capabilities of India’s national cyber cell should beenhanced for dealing with any cyber-attack in shortesttime.
How the coronavirus lockdowns can be converted into an opportunity to secure our children’s future (Indian Express)
Mains Paper 2:National
Prelims level: Not much
Mains level:Social issues
Every global crisis has its own philosophical import and an embedded message. We can ignore it only at our peril.
In more recent history World War II ended with unmistakable warning against nationalistic zealotry and use of nuclear weapons.
The world managed to heed both the messages for about 70 years before one of them – extreme and exclusivist nationalism – started raising its head again in several parts, including in India. Use of nuclear weapons has although been refrained from, its deterrent value still being traded as a weapon of blackmail if not destruction.
Some messages led to the greater good of greater numbers but, simultaneously, also led to its tweaking to reinvent older evils by some other name.
For example, imperialism led to two World Wars but their horrific effects paved way for good sense to prevail resulting in greater co-operation among nations and opening up of national economies and international trade. But it was also used by some to unleash their hidden economic imperialism.
All this, however, was always open to amendments from time to time, thus preventing the world from total collapse.
Yet, we haven’t apparently fully come to grips with the most alarming of the global crises of environmental degradation yet.
We still are fighting for our economic interests instead of unitedly facing the effects of the environmental crisis.
On “open” days, we can further whittle it down by offering at least two “work from home” days wherever possible. It will save more fuel and thus more foreign exchange for countries like India.
One of the social advantages of this “abstinence” regimen would be drastic reduction in accidents and crimes. Less crowd or no crowd on streets would also vastly reduce our solid waste burden, thus catalysing the process of restoration of environmental balance.
What it will also do is reduce the spread of contagious diseases. It could actually work wonders in extremely crowded and most populated cities.
All this, of course, comes at a price. It demands not only a great resolve to help mankind from a possible apocalypse, but also renunciation of age-old straight-jackets. For example, if the “shut” days unavoidably happen to eclipse some of the auspicious muhurats for religious observance.
There is also the possibility that as the Chinese economy recovers from the impact of the virus, production systems in the developed world would still be affected by the virus.
This could well offer China the possibility of regaining market share in the developed world.
India may not be able to respond in quite the same way. Apart from the huge gap in economic capabilities between the two most populous countries in the world, there is the fact that our exposure to the disease is coming when China may well be past it.
Rather than having global ambitions we may be better off keeping our focus within the country. And some of the practices that are being put in place to fight the virus could well have a longer-lasting impact.
The practice of washing our hands frequently could reduce our susceptibility to other diseases as well.
Tapping the more significant opportunities in the current adversity would require greater and more original thinking.
This is arguably most striking in what the experience of dealing with the coronavirus can do to our cities. Social distancing has forced companies and even governments to explore the option of working from home.
This has had an immediate effect on many of the problems of congestion, particularly traffic.
The commute to work constitutes a major part of traffic in Indian cities on days other than the weekend.
Working from home will contribute to a reduction in fuel consumption and pollution.
Within the workplace too there will be the benefit of those working from home saving on the time they take to come to office.
This would be particularly significant in India’s metropolises where scant attention has been paid to the task of reducing the distance between work and home.
As the economies of the developed countries slow down (some people are even talking of recession), their demand for imports of goods will go down and this will affect our exports which are even now not doing well.
In fact after six months of negative growth, it was only in January that Indian exports showed positive growth.
The extent of decline will depend on how severely the other economies are affected. Not only merchandise exports but also service exports will suffer.
Besides these, the IT industry, travel, transport and hotel industries will be affected. The only redeeming feature in the external sector is the fall in oil prices.
India’s oil import bill will come down substantially. But this will affect adversely the oil exporting countries which absorb Indian labour. Remittances may slow down.
As passengers travel less, the transportation industry, road, rail and air, is cutting down schedules, sometimes drastically.
This will affect in turn several other sectors closely related to them.
The laying off of non-permanent employees has already started.
Supply disruptions can occur because of the inability to import or procure inputs. The break in supply chains can be severe.
It is estimated that nearly 60% of our imports is in the category of ‘intermediate goods’. Imports from countries which are affected by the virus can be a source of concern.
Domestic supply chain can also be affected as the inter-State movement of goods has also slowed down.
Financial market issues
Financial markets are the ones which respond quickly and irrationally to a pandemic such as the coronavirus pandemic.
The stock market in India has collapsed.
The indices are at a three-year low. Foreign Portfolio Investors have shown great nervousness and the safe haven doctrine operates. In this process, the value of the rupee in terms of dollar has also fallen.
The stock market decline has a wealth affect and will have an impact on the behaviour of particularly high wealth holders.