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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 28 May 2020 (Experience with GST holds valuable lessons for One Nation One Ration Card(Indian Express))



Experience with GST holds valuable lessons for One Nation One Ration Card(Indian Express)



Mains Paper 2:Governance 
Prelims level: One Nation One Ration Card
Mains level: Significance and Challenges towards implementation of the One Nation One Ration Card Scheme 

Context:

  • The economic crisis precipitated by COVID-19 has focussed the country’s attention on inter-state migrants.
  • Millions of Indians in this diverse, complex group have crossed state borders in search of better economic opportunities.
  • The crisis, however, has highlighted their precarioussocio-economic condition.

Inter-state portability:

  • Historically, governments have made several attempts to bridge the gap.
  • A key part of that roadmap is the idea of portablewelfare benefits, that is, a citizen should be able to access welfare benefits irrespective of where she is in the country.
  • In the case of food rations, the idea was first mooted under the UPA government by a Nandan Nilekani-led task force in 2011.
  • The current government had committed to a national rollout of One Nation, One Ration Card (ON-ORC) by June 2020, and had initiated pilots in 12 states.
  • While intra-state portability of benefits has seen good initial uptake, inter-state portability has lagged.
  • The finance minister has now announced the deadline of March 2021 to roll out ON-ORC.

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Challenges to the roll out ON-ORC:

  • To ensure a smooth rollout, we would benefit from reviewing the challenges thus far.
  • First, the fiscal implications: ON-ORC will affect how the financial burden is shared between states.
  • Second, the larger issues of federalism and inter-state coordination:Many states are not convinced about a “one size fits all” regime because they have customised the PDS through higher subsidies, higher entitlement limits, and supply of additional items.
  • Third, the technology aspect: ON-ORC requires a complex technology backbone that brings over 750 million beneficiaries, 5,33,000 ration shops and 54 million tonnes of food-grain annually on a single platform.
  • These barriers might seem daunting, but the country has previously dealt with an equally complex situation while rolling out the GST, which was widely toutedas “one nation, one tax”.

Drawing comparison between GST and ON-ORC:

  • Just like with ON-ORC, fiscal concerns had troubled GST from the start.
  • States like Tamil Nadu and Gujarat that are “net exporters” were concerned they would lose out on tax revenues to “net consumer” states like UP and Bihar.
  • Finally, the Centre had to step in and provide guaranteed compensation for lost tax revenues for the first five years.
  • The Centre could provide a similar assurance to “net inbound migration” states such as Maharashtra and Kerala that any additional costs on account of migrants will be covered by it for the five years. 

National Council for ON-ORC:

  • GST also saw similar challenges with broader issues of inter-state coordination.
  • In a noteworthy example of cooperative federalism, the central government created a GST council consisting of the finance ministers of the central and state governments to address these issues.
  • The government could consider a similar national council for ON-ORC.
  • To be effective, this council should meet regularly, have specific decision-making authority, and should operate in a problem-solving mode based on consensus building.

PDS Network (PDSN):

  • Finally, GST is supported by a sophisticated tech backbone, housed by the GST Network (GSTN), an entity jointly owned by the Centre and states.
  • A similar system would be needed for ON-ORC.
  • The Nilekani-led task force recommended setting up of a PDS network (PDSN) to track movement of rations, register beneficiaries, issue ration cards, handle grievancesand generate analytics.
  • Since food rations are a crucial lifeline for millions, such a platform should incorporate principles such as inclusion, privacy, security, transparency, and accountability.

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Learning from GST shortcomings:

  • At the same time, we should learn from the shortcomings and challenges of the GST rollout.
  • For example, delay in GST refunds led to cash-flow issues.
  • Similar delays in receiving food rations could be catastrophic.
  • Therefore, ON-ORC should create, publish and adhere to time-bound processes, like right to public services legislation that have been adopted by 15 states, and rapid grievance redress mechanisms.
  • MSMEs also complained about the increase in compliance burden especially for those who had to digitise overnight. Similar challenges could arise in ON-ORC.
  • PDS dealers will need to be brought on board, and not assumed to be compliant.
  • Citizens will need to be shieldedfrom the inevitableteething issues by keeping the system lenientat first, providing different ways of authenticating oneself, and publicising a helpline widely.

Conclusion:

  • If done well, ON-ORC could lay the foundation of a truly national and portable benefits system that includes other welfare programmes like LPG subsidy and social pensions.
  • It is an opportunity to provide a reliable social protection backbone to migrants, who are the backbone of our economy.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 28 May 2020 (The missing data (Indian Express))



The missing data (Indian Express)



Mains Paper 3:Economy 
Prelims level: Household Consumer Expenditure Survey
Mains level: Highlights of the Household Consumer Expenditure Survey data

Context:

  • For a country already short of recent large sample survey-based data.
  • Nobody knows whether and how much poverty has fallen in the last decade or if consumption of vegetables and protein-rich foods is growing at the same rate as before.

Household Consumer Expenditure (HCE) Survey:

  • The National Statistical Office (NSO) was to undertake its household consumer expenditure (HCE) survey for 2020-21 from July, which is now practically ruled out.
  • The houselisting phase of the Census, crucial for carving out and assigning “blocks” to field enumerators tasked with collecting household/individual-level information, was scheduled during April-September.
  • Its postponing could have a bearing on the main census slated for February-March 2020.
  • Since the houselisting and enumeration blocks are also used for the rural development ministry’s Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC), it points to serious data challenges ahead.

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Lacking Justification:

  • The novel coronavirus has, no doubt, created a war-like situation.
  • The census and other surveys being put off by even a year shouldn’t, to that extent, be held against the government.
  • This argument, however, lacks justification when there has been no officially-released HCE survey, normally conducted every five years, after 2011-12.
  • Nor is there a single field survey-based government study capturing the impact of demonetisation, goods and services tax or even programmes such as Mudra and Jan Dhan Yojana on household incomes, consumption and poverty.
  • Contrast this to the 2011-12 period, when there was a surfeitof information from the census, SECC and the NSO’s HCE and employment-and-unemployment surveys.
  • The NSO carried out an HCE survey for 2017-18, but its report was withheld, apparently for showing a decline in real rural consumption on the back of rising farm distress.
  • Any survey now or even in 2021-22 may throw up similar, if not worse, results. Will that, then, act as a deterrentto not release them as well?

Doing large sample surveys:

  • The time has come for the government to move to a continuous mode of doing large sample surveys.
  • Technology and rotational panel sampling design can easily enable this.
  • If a private data analytics company like the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy can, through its Consumer Pyramids Household Surveys, cover over 1.74 lakh households annually, there’s no reason why the NSO cannot.
  • It has, in fact, made a beginning through its periodic labour force surveys from 2017-18.

Conclusion:

  • Informed policymaking requires continuous data generation, for which one shouldn’t wait for a “normal” year that also suits the government.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 28 May 2020 (Unlocking justice(Indian Express))



Unlocking justice(Indian Express)



  • Mains Paper 2:Polity 
  • Prelims level: Sedition Laws
  • Mains level: Challenges to the use of Sedition Law

Context:

  • Individuals against whom cases of sedition have been filed in recent months, for protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act and the proposed National Register of Citizens in particular, may be facing a double injustice, in the justice process.

Denying Justice:

  • As a report in this paper has brought to light, amid a public health emergency in which courts are hearing only “urgent” cases through video-conferencing, bail pleas filed in these cases are not being defined as such.
  • That these people, like 19-year-old Amulya Leona, arrested in February by Bengaluru police under Section 124 of the IPC for raising “Pakistan Zindabad” slogans at an anti-CAA rally, are languishing in custody, their bail pleas unheard, is the second injustice.
  • The first, as another report in this paper underlined in February, predatesthe pandemic:

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Misuse of Sedition Laws:

  • A scrutinyof 25-odd arrests made on charges of sedition in UP, Karnataka and Assam since the anti-CAA protests began, threw up a soberingpattern of police custody granted by courts, no questions asked, no reasons given, or after the most perfunctoryhearings.
  • While the Supreme Court has upheld the colonial-era sedition law, it has also read the provision restrictively, saying only seditious “speech tended to incite public disorder” was punishable.
  • The apex court has emphasised that clear and immediate incitement to violence is necessary for making the offence of sedition.

Courts not acting:

  • The apparent languorof the courts, the evidentlack of rigour or urgency, in cases where it would appear that the government is criminalising acts of protest by slapping serious charges on them, is troubling.
  • It is disquietingif the pandemic becomes a cover to delay or deny the weak and the vulnerable their day in court, their fundamental right to bail.
  • Ever since people’s protests began across the country against the CAA and the proposed NRC, the BJP-led government at the Centre has, deservedly, invited accusations of intolerance of views different from its own.
  • The government did not just turn a deaf ear to the protesters, it also attempted to subdue them, including by wielding the sedition law. This has cast a greater responsibility on the court.

Conclusion:

  • The courts are the time-tested recoursefor upholding and safeguarding constitutional protections for the citizens’ freedom of expression, including and especially the liberty to dissent.
  • They must not show, nor be seen to show, a lack of alacrityin performing their vital role.

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(E-Book) KURUKSHETRA MAGAZINE HINDI PDF - MAY 2020

 (E-Book) KURUKSHETRA MAGAZINE PDF - MAY 2020 (HINDI)

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  • E-BOOK NAME : YOJANA KURUKSHETRA PDF -MAY 2020
  • Total Pages: 52
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(Download) Old NCERT PDF : Principles of Geography Class-XI (M. H. Qureshi)

(Download) Old NCERT PDF : Principles of Geography Class-XI (M.H. Qureshi)

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Table of Contents :

Chapter 1.

  • Renewable 

Chapter 2.

  • Resources: Forest and Fish 

Chapter 3.

  • Grasslands and Animal Rearing 

Chapter 4.

  • Non-renewable Resources: Minerals 

Chapter 5.

  • Energy Resources 

Chapter 6.

  • Conservation of Natural Resources 

Chapter 7.

  • Utilisation of Natural 

Chapter 8.

  • Resources Major Crops of the World 

Chapter 9.

  • Manufacturing Industries 

Chapter 10.

  • Location of Industries and Major Industries of the World 

Chapter 11.

  • Transport and Communication 

Chapter 12.

  • International Trade 

Chapter 13.

  • Population 

Chapter 14.

  • Settlements

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 11 May 2020 (What’s in a NAM? (Indian Express))



What’s in a NAM? (Indian Express)



Mains Paper 2: International
Prelims level: Non-aligned movement
Mains level: Reasons behind to renewed the engagement

Context:

  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s video address to a summit of the non-aligned nations last week has generated criticism as well as commendation. Both sides, however, miss the recent evolution of the Indian thinking on the NAM.

Renewed interest:

  • External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar has spoken frequently about India’s stakes in the so-called “Global South”.
  • He was invoking a term that refers to the entire developing world and not just members of the NAM.
  • The minister has talked about consolidating long-standing political equities that Delhi had created in the NAM and the Global South over the last many decades.
  • The new interest is not a throwback to seeing the NAM as an anti-Western ideological crusade.
  • Nor is it a pretence of valuing the movement but treating it as a ritual to be performed every three years.

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Attention:

  • But why has a routine speech by the PM on promoting global cooperation in combating the coronavirus gotten so much attention?
  • One reason is its billing as Modi’s first address ever to the NAM.
  • After all, he had skipped the last two NAM summits, at Venezuela in 2016 and Azerbaijan in 2019.
  • Critics of the NDA’s foreign policy convinced themselves that Modi had no real attachment for the non-aligned legacy of Jawaharlal Nehru.
  • For the traditionalists, Modi’s engagement with the NAM was a welcome return to roots.
  • For those who see the NAM as a political dinosaur, Delhi’s renewed enthusiasm for it seems like a regression. But a closer look at the Modi government’s foreign policy actions reveals a three-fold rationale for intensifying engagement with the NAM.

New cold war:

  • Those who say the NAM is a relic of the Cold War must also acknowledge that a new Cold War is beginning to unfold, this time between the US and China.
  • As the conflict between the world’s two most important powers envelops all dimensions of international society, India has every reason to try and preserve some political space in between the two .
  • In the last few years, Delhi paid lip-service to the NAM but devoted a lot of diplomatic energy to forums like BRICS.
  • Given the Russian and Chinese leadership of BRICS, Delhi inevitably began to tamely echo the international positions of Moscow and Beijing rather than represent voices of the Global South.

Conclusion:

  • Finally, as a nation seeking to become an independent pole in global affairs, India could do more with forums like the NAM in mobilising support on issues of interest to Delhi.
  • An independent Indian line backed by strong support within the NAM can make a big difference to the outcomes of the impending contentions at the World Health Assembly later this month on reviewing the WHO’s performance during the COVID crisis.

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Prelims Questions:

Q1. With reference to the NLC India Limited, consider the following statements:
1. It is a ‘Maharatna’ Public Enterprise under the Ministry of Coal.
2. It was incorporated in 1956 and is headquartered in Neyveli, Tamil Nadu.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?
(a) 1 only
(b) 2 only
(c) Both 1 and 2
(d) Neither 1 nor 2

Answer...................

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Mains Questions:
Q1. What is NAM? What are the reasons behind to renewed the engagement with other countries by India?

THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 11 May 2020 (Coming to terms (The Hindu))



Coming to terms (The Hindu)



Mains Paper 2: Governance
Prelims level: Sentinel surveillance
Mains level: Responsibilities for Centre and States to enforce virus containment measures

Context:

  • As early as March 28, the Health Ministry acknowledged that there was “limited community transmission” of the novel coronavirus in India.
  • On April 9, the ICMR and Health Ministry researchers — some of them are national task force members for COVID-19 — in a journal paper, provided evidence suggesting the prevalence of community transmission in 36 districts across 15 States.

Sentinel surveillance:

  • The sentinel surveillance for community transmission undertaken by the task force among patients hospitalised for severe acute respiratory infection (SARI) found 40 of the 102 who tested positive for the virus had no travel history or contact with a known positive case, while data on exposure was not available for another 59 SARI patients.
  • Yet, the ICMR consistently maintained that the virus had not spread to the community.
  • On May 5, even when the total number of nation-wide cases was close to 47,000, the Health Minister said that India’s virus spread had not gone to stage three.

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Compulsion to expand testing:

  • The reluctance is surprising given that the total cases reported so far has already crossed 63,500, and the nature of spread is through droplet transmission and contact with contaminated surfaces.
  • In contrast, is the U.S. On February 26, when the total number of cases was just 60, it confirmed community spread following the detection in California of the first case with no travel history or contact with a known positive case.
  • One reason why India refused to confirm community spread early on could be the compulsion to expand testing when the country did not have the capacity to test huge numbers each day. But there is no reason now to continue being in denial, as that erodes public trust in the government.

Reliable rapid antibody test:

  • Against this background, the latest decision to initiate a study in 75 hotspot districts to confirm community spread and ascertain the proportion of community already exposed to the virus is encouraging.
  • The study had apparently got delayed by about a month due to the non-availability of reliable rapid antibody tests.
  • Due to the unreliability of rapid antibody test, the government will instead use the ELISA test to check for infection.
  • Since the ELISA test detects antibodies to the virus, the survey will be able to pick previously infected people including those who were asymptomatic for the entire duration of the infection.
  • Since it takes one to three weeks for the antibodies to develop, the ELISA test will miss people who have been recently infected.
  • The survey, scheduled to begin later this month in collaboration with the States concerned, will randomly test about 30,000 people in the general population.

Conclusion:

  • Meanwhile, all States should continue with strict containment and mitigation measures, acting on the assumption that the virus has indeed spread in the community.

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Prelims Questions:

Q1. With reference to the Permanent Representative to the United Nations, consider the following statements:
1. India has appointed diplomat T S Tirumurti, currently serving as Secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs, as its Permanent Representative to the United Nations.
2. India was among the select members of the United Nations that signed the United Nations Declaration at Washington on January 1, 1942.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?
(a) 1 only
(b) 2 only
(c) Both 1 and 2
(d) Neither 1 nor 2

Answer..................

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Mains Questions:
Q1. Describe the responsibilities for Centre and States to enforce virus containment measures as well as to assuming the community spread initiatives.

THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 11 May 2020 (Tragedy on the tracks (The Hindu))



Tragedy on the tracks (The Hindu)



Mains Paper 2: Governance
Prelims level: Migrant labourers
Mains level: Process to end migrant labour crisis

Context:

  • The tragedy of 16 strewn bodies on a railway track in Maharashtra on Friday morning has been in the making for weeks now.
  • The Centre and several States have been engaged in flip-flops on facilitating the return of migrant workers to their homes.

Centre’s inability:

  • In the present instance, the workers at a company in Jalna in Maharashtra were walking on the track to their families in Madhya Pradesh some 800 km away after the national lockdown since March derailed their livelihoods.
  • The Centre’s inability to clearly communicate to the public and States the purpose and protocol of the lockdown every step of the way has put people through completely avoidable hardship. This governance failure was aggravated by several States, either due to lack of capacity or incompetence.
  • The sight of an endless stream of migrant labourers, some of them carrying toddlers and the infirm, walking towards India’s poorer regions from its economic centres, will remain an indelible memory of this inept and insensitive approach that had not taken their particular circumstances into account.

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Unfolding Pestilence:

  • Though it did not spare any effort to make spectacles out of an unfolding pestilence, each government announcement about the lockdown threw even the educated public into a tailspin, and required numerous clarifications and amendments.
  • To argue that this is a once-in-a-century event that caught even developed countries napping could at best be a tenuous defence. Even after it woke from the slumber and announced special trains to ferry the stranded and starving workforce to their homes, confusion reigned.
  • Onerous paper work and huge costs were heaped on these hapless citizens who manage to barely get by even in the best of times.
  • States acted arbitrarily; courts intervened thoughtlessly. Hunger, humiliation and fear of the disease made thousands of these migrants so desperate that they ventured to walk thousands of kilometres to get home.

Conclusion:

  • All of this could have been managed better had the Centre worked with States to map out a strategy to support those who wanted to stay where they were, and organised the return of those who chose to do so in an orderly manner.
  • A huge cost has already been paid in lives and suffering, but even now there can be measures to mitigate the situation.
  • It must have a more open and honest communication with State governments, and citizens. Tough measures may be essential but caring ones are just as vital.
  • This unfolding tragedy must be stopped in its tracks.

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(E-Book) KURUKSHETRA MAGAZINE PDF - MAY 2020

 (E-Book) KURUKSHETRA MAGAZINE PDF - MAY 2020

  • Medium: ENGLISH
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  • Total Pages: 52
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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 08 May 2020 (Slow, but steady: On COVID-19 spread in India (The Hindu))



Slow, but steady: On COVID-19 spread in India (The Hindu)



Mains Paper 2: Health 
Prelims level: COVID-19
Mains level: Increasing the testing process of COVID 19

Context:

  • With 52,469 confirmed cases and 1,771 fatalities as on May 6, 2020, India entered the list of the top 15 countries with the highest number of people infected by the novel coronavirus. 
  • The infection count in India accounted for only 1.41% of the overall COVID-19 cases the world over, but this proportion has increased from 0.13% (536 cases) on March 24, the day when lockdown measures were announced, to 0.58% (11,487 cases) when the lockdown was extended to what it is currently. 

Doubling time for cases:

  • The number of infections continues to surge in the U.S., where as on May 6 there were more than 1.2 million cases, nearly a third (32.7%) of the world’s total.
  • While severely affected countries such as Italy, Spain, the U.K., France, Germany, Turkey and Iran finally seem to be experiencing a relative slowdown in the growth of new cases, emerging economies such as Brazil and Russia have shown no flattening of the curve as cases continue to exponentially increase in these countries. 
  • This is indicated by the doubling time for cases in the last week: seven and nine days, respectively, for these two countries. Brazil has also registered 7,921 deaths due to the virus, much higher than in India (1,771) and Russia (1,451). 

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Early contact tracing and testing: 

  • The fact that despite two extensions to one of the most stringent lockdowns in the world, India has not managed to flatten the curve suggests that the lockdown might have been necessary but it is not sufficient. 
  • The common theme among countries that have substantially arrested the spread of the virus has been early contact tracing and testing during the outbreak. 
  • Some countries such as South Korea have managed to flatten the curve simply by community testing and surveillance. 
  • It was always going to be difficult to test at such high rates in India, but even within the limited testing protocols, a closely monitored testing and surveillance strategy has paid dividends for States such as Kerala. 

Testing rates across the states: 

  • Other States that have registered a sudden increase in COVID-19 cases, such as Tamil Nadu, Punjab and Haryana, must continue to ramp up testing and isolation of positive cases for the lockdown strategy to work. 
  • Fortunately, these States have had only a few fatalities unlike Maharashtra, Gujarat (which have tested more samples per day than the national average) and West Bengal and Madhya Pradesh (which continue to test at a rate lower than the national average). 

Conclusion: 

  • The country cannot afford to lock down its activities indefinitely. Ramping up testing and public health infrastructure, besides protecting the vulnerable, remains the best way for India.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 08 May 2020 (A war-like state and a bond to the rescue (The Hindu))



A war-like state and a bond to the rescue (The Hindu)



Mains Paper 3: Economy 
Prelims level: Consol bond
Mains level: Government budgeting system and raising funds 

Context:

  • As India’s ominous COVID-19 curve stretches further, urgent attention needs to be paid to an economy that is teetering on the edge. 
  • Several economists, former Finance Ministers and central bank Governors have made the clarion call for a large stimulus to pull the economy back from the brink. 
  • There are a few who seem to believe that there are ways and means to provide this stimulus without breaking the bank as it were. 
  • As we spend more time in a national lockdown or quasi-lockdown situation, we believe that austerity measures and reallocations notwithstanding.
  • We will definitely need to go beyond current revenue receipts to fund the complete stimulus.

A gathering financial storm:

  • In the Budget before the pandemic, India projected a deficit of ₹7.96-lakh crore. 
  • However, even then there were concerns around off balance sheet borrowings of 1% of GDP and an overly excessive target of ₹2.1 lakh crore through disinvestments. 

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Need for stimulus package and measures taken by the central bank:

  • In addition to the expenditure that was planned, the government has to spend anywhere between ₹5-lakh crore and ₹6-lakh crore as stimulus. 
  • The insipid stimulus provided by the government so far and recent announcements by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) only serve to highlight how out of touch with reality they are. 
  • All the RBI’s schemes are contingent on the availability of risk capital, the market for which has completely collapsed. 
  • The two have tried several times over the last year to nudge banks into lending to below investment grade micro, small and medium enterprises, but have come up short each time. 
  • Furthermore, while the 60% increase in ways and means limits for States is a welcome move, many States have already asked for double the limits due to the shortages in indirect taxation collections from Goods and Services Tax, fuel and liquor. 
  • The government and the central bank need to understand that half measures will do more harm than good. 
  • It will only lull us into a false sense of security, much like a lockdown without adequate testing.

Echo from the past:

  • Politicians and epidemiologists across the world have used the word “war” to describe the situation the world is currently in. 
  • As we wage a united war against this virus, it would be interesting for us to look at war-time methods of raising financing. 
  • One such method that has been used as early as the First World War is the Consol Bond. 
  • In 2014, the British government, a century after the start of the First World War, paid out 10% of the total outstanding Consol bond debt. 

What is a consol bond? 

  • A perpetual bond, also known as a "consol bond" or "prep," is a fixed income security with no maturity date. 
  • This type of bond is often considered a type of equity, rather than debt. One major drawback to these types of bonds is that they are not redeemable. 
  • However, the major benefit of them is that they pay a steady stream of interest payments forever.The bonds, which paid out an interest of 5%, were issued in 1917 as the government sought to raise more money to finance the ongoing cost of the First World War. 

Why it is a better option?

  • There is no denying the fact that the traditional option of monetising the deficit by having the central bank buy government bonds is one worth pursuing. 
  • However, given an as yet hesitant (to raise debt) Prime Minister’s penchant for making citizens active participants to his missions, he might view a Consol Bond as a more compelling alternative. 
  • Furthermore, with the fall of real estate and given the lack of safe havens outside of gold, the bond would offer a dual benefit as a risk free investment for retail investors. 
  • When instrumented, it would be issued by the central government on a perpetual basis with a right to call it back when it seems fit. 
  • An attractive coupon rate for the bond or tax rebates could also be an incentive for investors. 

Conclusion: 

  • The government can consider a phased redemption of these bonds after the economy is put back on a path of high growth — a process that might take that much longer for every day we extend this lockdown.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 08 May 2020 (An army against COVID-19 (Indian Express))



An army against COVID-19 (Indian Express)



Mains Paper 3: Science and Tech 
Prelims level: Monoclonal antibody
Mains level: Details about the monoclonal antibody and its application process to combat COVID 19

Context:

  • Israel’s new monoclonal antibody against SARS-CoV-2, isolated by the country’s premier public sector biological research organization.
  • The Israel Institute of Biological Research (IIBR), joins a line of monoclonal antibodies being proposed against the pathogen. 
  • Celltrion, a South Korean pharma company, had announced mid-April that it had identified 14 neutralising monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) in partnership with the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, from a pool of 300 antibodies that bind to SARS-CoV-2’s surface proteins.

Eyeing human trials:

  • The company is eyeing human trials in July, and has said that it is also on track for the development of an ‘antibody cocktail’. 
  • It is important to mention here that South Korea has a high recovery rate, of 86% as on May 4; such a large pool of recovered people could facilitate a wide assessment of convalescent antibody-led lines of treatment, mAbs trials.

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What are the Monoclonal antibodies? 

  • Monoclonal antibodies are generated from a single recovered parent-cell in laboratory conditions through the use of genetically modified mice, and are reformatted for use in humans after they show efficacy in beating a pathogen. 
  • These are particularly potent, since they target one epitope (site of engagement with the pathogen on its surface) and prevent its entry into a healthy cell. 
  • The fact that these engage with a unique epitope means that the pathogen targeted is overwhelmed with very little time for it to develop a mutation against the mAb.

mAb line of therapy:

  • The IIBR reports directly to the prime minister—however haven’t shared any scientific literature on the development or information on laboratory evaluation of their isolated mAb. 
  • The IIBR researchers are looking to apply for a patent and enter into a commercial partnership with an international pharma company, that will need regulatory approvals for human use after the results of clinical trials are assessed. 
  • Human trials will be an important milestone in the progress of an mAb line of therapy, since mAbs, though they mimic antibodies produced by the human body, could have significant side-effects.
  • Trials of gimsilumab, an mAb developed by Roivant Sciences, was rolled out on April 16 on Covid-19 patients with lung injury or showing signs of Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome, with the Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia being the primary site of trial. 
  • The primary endpoint being considered for the trial is mortality by day 43, with the secondary endpoints being incidence and duration of mechanical ventilation use, number of ICU days and inpatient hospitalisation days.
  • Considering the primary endpoint for the trial, the results should be available by the end of this month.
  • Researchers at the Utrecht University in the Netherlands have also reported the development of an mAb (named 47D11), in the journal Nature Communications. 
  • The mAb neutralised SARS-CoV-2 in in vitro conditions by binding to the Spike surface protein of the virus. 

Way ahead:

  • The researchers believe the mAb may also have therapeutic use in another coronavirus (SARS-CoV, the pathogen behind SARS), if it passes the clinical trial stage. This would make the Utrecht mAb a bi-specific one, i.e., with efficacy against two pathogens.
  • Apart from these instances of mAb research targeting Covid-19, American biotech major Regeneron Pharmaceuticals and British-Swedish pharma major AstraZeneca are working on mAb solutions, too. 
  • The US’s Darpa is also playing a seminal role in mAb research with many partner biotech firms.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 08 May 2020 (Online route of justice delivery system (Indian Express))



Online route of justice delivery system (Indian Express)



Mains Paper 2: Polity 
Prelims level: eCourts Project
Mains level: Adoption of technology in Judiciary 

Context:

  • The lockdown has generated several webinars on justice delivery, technology and the future. 
  • The discussions focus on the way forward in tackling the problem of social distancing with lawyers and litigants crowding the courts even after the lockdown is lifted.

Kinds of courts in our justice delivery system:

  • First, conventional courts located in court complexes where judges, lawyers and litigants are physically present. 
  • Second, online courts where the judge is physically present in the courtroom but the lawyer or litigant is not. This is the present arrangement, except that now the courtroom is the residential office of the judge, due to the lockdown. 
  • Third, virtual courts where there is no judge, lawyer or litigant and a computer takes a decision based on the inputs of the litigant.

Pilot project with Tihar Jail:

  • The pilot project for dealing with routine remand cases of prisoners. 
  • The procedure postulated prisoners being produced in court, not physically but through video conferencing (VC), hence an online court. 
  • The pilot project started tentatively with some hiccups but proved to be a success and now several courts have adopted the online process with varying degrees of commitment.

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Adoption of online routes by district and high courts:

  • A few intrepid district judges have taken a step forward and recorded the statement of parties in cases of divorce by mutual consent. 
  • As of now, several such cases, including those involving NRIs, are dealt with through VC in online courts. 
  • Punjab and Haryana judges have gone even further ahead. The online courts record the expert evidence of doctors from PGIMER through VC. 
  • This has freed the doctors from time consuming trips to the courts and has resulted in savings of several crores for the exchequer. 
  • Similar success stories are available from other district courts, but a determined and concerted effort is necessary to popularise online courts at the district level.
  • Some high court judges in Delhi and Punjab and Haryana have completely dispensed with paper — everything is on a soft copy, through e-Filing and scanned documents. 
  • Lawyers and judges have made necessary adjustments to the new regime and the cases are conveniently heard and decided in “paperless courts”. 
  • A few other high courts initiated similar steps, but have yet to institutionalise “paperless courts”.

Limitations: 

  • The online courts is unfamiliarity with the medium of communication. Judges are simply not used to consciously facing a camera generally and in particular while hearing a case.
  • Similarly, lawyers find it difficult to comfortably argue while seated. Body language, facial expressions, the tone and tenor, both of the judge and the lawyer, make for important signals and clues which cannot be captured in VC. 
  • Some technical problems in conducting online hearings have also surfaced. The bandwidth is not adequate or stable enough. The picture sometimes breaks or gets frozen and the voice often cracks.
  • Consultations are also a problem. Lawyers occasionally need to consult their client or the instructing advocate; judges also need to consult each other during a hearing. Attention needs to be paid to these real-time issues otherwise lawyers will harbour misgivings about a fair hearing.
  • The chairman of the Bar Council of India has voiced a concern that 90 per cent of the lawyers are not computer literate or tech savvy. 

eCourts Project:

  • A virtual court is a unique contribution of the eCourts Project. 
  • A pilot virtual court was launched in August 2018 in Delhi for traffic offences and it has been a great success. 
  • Virtual courts have been successfully tried out in Delhi, Haryana, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu. 
  • A virtual court is a simple programme through which a person can find out if a challan has been issued to him or her through a search facility. 
  • If a challan has been issued, the details are available online and the person may plead guilty or not guilty. 
  • On a guilty plea, the minimum fine is imposed and on a not-guilty plea, the case is electronically transferred to the traffic court for trial. 
  • At the end of the day, a judge reviews the cases and disposes of them electronically depending on the option exercised. 
  • One judge is all it takes to manage the virtual court for Delhi or an entire state. 
  • With the launch of virtual courts, the daily footfalls to the courts have drastically reduced and thousands have pleaded guilty and paid the fine electronically.

Potential of virtual court system: 

  • The virtual court system has the potential of being upscaled and other petty offences attracting a fine such as delayed payments of local taxes or compoundable offences can also be dealt with by virtual courts. This will ease the burden on conventional courts and therefore must be strongly encouraged.

Way ahead: 

  • Post lockdown, justice delivery will certainly undergo a transformation and judges, lawyers and litigants will need to adapt to the new normal. 
  • Social distancing is here to stay and will bring about profound changes in the way justice is administered and delivered. 
  • Open courts will remain as also open justice, but some definitions will change with a more aggressive use of technology, not only in conventional but also online and virtual courts. 

Conclusion: 

  • Several countries and courts have made adjustments not only for the period of the pandemic or lockdown, but also for the future. 
  • We should certainly not be left behind but must also make a roadmap to meet the challenge. As the Boy Scouts say: Be prepared.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 08 May 2020 (Covid constraints on defence expenditure could help transform military culture (Indian Express))



Covid constraints on defence expenditure could help transform military culture (Indian Express)



Mains Paper 3: Defense and Security 
Prelims level: Defence forces in India
Mains level: Various security forces, agencies and their mandates 

Context:

  • The freezing of fresh capital acquisitions by the defence forces, delays in procurement and induction of existing orders, and austerity measures in the administrative domain, were expected. 

Myopic approach:

  • It is easy to approach this problem tactically by issuing directives and guidelines and then seeking periodic feedback from the military on the progress made, targets met, shortfalls and remedial measures instituted. 
  • Instead, this should be seen as an opportunity to evolve a transformational culture in the Indian military, based on clear political guidelines driven by existing and futuristic capabilities, expected strategic outcomes and anticipated strategic challenges.

Approaches taken by neighbouring countries:

  • Pakistan stagnates in an existential-threat-based and India-centric approach to national security. 
  • China’s expansive global strategy and unbridled capability-based development surge have overcome the dangers of direct competition with the US. It has closed the gap through an “indirect approach to international security”, which looks at building on strengths in areas such as cyberspace, non-contact warfare, economic and diplomatic coercion. 

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Strategic guidelines for India’s security:

  • Strategic guidelines for India’s security managers must shift from a threat-based methodology to a multi-disciplinary capability.
  • An outcome-based orientation to fit with the nation’s power aspirations.

Five visible silos most critical to kick-start the transformation:
Creation of indigenous defence capability:

  • Doing this without brushing away the short and medium-term requirement of selective imports will be the key to a calibrated march to self-sufficiency. 

Leadership: 

  • India’s military leadership is very hierarchical and sequential in its approach. 
  • However, this same leadership has superb operational skills and possesses a quick understanding of technology, tactics, techniques and procedures. 
  • Consequently, strategic leaders need to be identified and their transition towards becoming more than mere executors of operational plans and campaigns needs to be enabled. 
  • Multi-disciplinary thinking, lateral assimilation and a world-view are among the specific skill-sets that need to be nurtured.

Training and education:

  • Training and education form the next two silos in the process of transformation. Let us take the developed Western model for example. 
  • Several military officers at the colonel level — fresh out of war colleges and the university environment where they spend a year of education (not training) — are posted at the Pentagon and NATO HQ. 
  • Here, they work alongside civilians, politicians, lawmakers, not forgetting their own joint leadership. In such an environment, it is not difficult to mark, train and recognise talent in ways that go beyond the mere rank structure. 
  • It is high time India goes down that road because even though economic globalisation may be on hold for a while post COVID-19, there is going to be a flattening of the world from a security perspective. 
  • There will be common threats that would need to be fought jointly by nations. 
  • The three pre-requisites in these silos will be an amalgam of service-centric and joint operations expertise, operational acumen in a global environment, and broad-based education that develops intellectual capital.
  • Training in the Indian military is top-notch and needs a little tweaking to help officers and men understand the rules of engagement in a Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA) world. It is diversified education at all levels of leadership that is a weak area.

Jointness and integration:

  • The silo of jointness and integration without losing identities and compromising competencies is an outcome that needs to be chased down with focus and determination. 
  • There will be pain and turfs will be trampled on, but with transformed and intellectually empowered leadership, no bridge will too far to cross for the Indian military.

Way ahead:

  • Some have suggested radical ways of selecting future chiefs, suggesting a “deep selection” and a four-year tenure based on several criteria that have been highlighted in this article. 
  • They have also highlighted the accompanying risks of such a move.
  • Keeping that as an aspirational long-term outcome may be a good idea as the processes needed to incorporate such a radical change are either nascent or absent from the current system.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 07 May 2020 (Promise of equity (Indian Express))



Promise of equity (Indian Express)



Mains Paper 2: Governance 
Prelims level: Direct benefit transfer 
Mains level: Welfare schemes for poor through direct benefit transfer 

Context:

  • Recently, the FM announced a fiscal relief package of Rs 1.7 lakh crore to help the poor.
  • This package—at 1% of GDP. 
  • FM said that the “measures are intended at reaching out to the poorest of the poor, with food and money in hands, so that they do not face difficulties in buying essential supplies and meeting essential needs”.

To scale up the fiscal relief measures:

  • With a special emphasis on “Basic Income” the threshold fiscal deficit to GDP ratio, as in the FRBM, may be revised. 
  • It is not only the levels, but also the financing pattern, of deficits that need a relook.
  • Given the narrative of “whatever it takes” to address “life versus livelihood” crisis and the public health pandemic, we must emphasise the increased monetisation of deficits, along with the bond financing, rather than external financing of debt.

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Informal workforce: 

  • The Economic Survey 2018-19 points that “almost 93%” of the total workforce is ‘informal’. 
  • In a nation, which is under the Great Lockdown, where the daily worker is prevented from earning a fair wage.
  • It stands to reason that we exercise the humane quality of being fair and impartial, particularly considering the size of the informal workforce.
  • The announcements by the FM, thus, are partial, and there is a need to enhance “basic income” transfers.

Universal Basic Income:

  • One of the biggest challenges in providing Universal Basic Income (UBI) to all is that it gets mired in politics—both good and bad. 
  • Many questions arise, if the income is considered “universal”, who all benefit from it—why should the rich be included? And, if only the poor are included, does it become an unalienable right? 
  • These are technically the Type 1 (inclusion error) and Type 2 (exclusion error) errors in public expenditure management.
  • To avoid getting mired in a political discourse, we may term this as Basic Sustenance Income. 

Targeting the underprivileged:

  • The proposed Direct Benefit Transfer will be targeting the underprivileged (BPL) for day-to-day sustenance all through the year. 
  • The government can scale up the existing fiscal relief package and contribute to individual and household income sustenance in six ways.
  • It can strengthen the minimum living sustenance income guarantee, announced in the initial fiscal Covid policy response. 
  • The announcement of Rs 500 per head to the women in the care economy per se is insufficient. 
  • It is indeed significant to combine food security with basic income. National Food Security Act, 2013 makes the right to food a justiciable right. 
  • As on date, a significant part of this is fulfilled by the PDS system. However, many of the intended beneficiaries—such as inter-state migrants—are left out.

Fulfilling calorific requirements:

  • The focus of the PDS programme is more on fulfilling calorific requirements rather than nutritional requirements. 
  • Moreover, there are several challenges in running such a PDS system efficiently, as a “leak proof” distribution system. 
  • What we propose is weekly direct transfer of payments based on market rates for the food grains supplied via PDS throughout the year. 
  • Thus, the intended beneficiary decides what food grains (nutrition) to buy and how much to buy. 
  • This transfer benefits directly to migrants’ accounts at their place of work. 

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Calamity Jane Disaster Support Schemes:

  • “Calamity Jane” Disaster Support Schemes need to be designed to support the needy during this period. 
  • The beneficiaries could be state/region-specific, or whatever the deserving category as declared by the government. 
  • This could be in the form of weekly or one-time lumpsum transfers dependent upon the distress caused to the targeted group. 
  • A good example can be the migrants or other deserving poor unable to work owing to the lockdown.

Provisions for PPE during Covid:

  • To strengthen social insurance payments for sickness, including provisions for PPE during Covid. 
  • The significant issues would be to firm up social security based on contributions.
  • The monetary policy has limitations in triggering the economy through credit policy instruments.
  • Design appropriate conditional cash transfers, contingent upon citizens fulfilling certain government-targeted social goals such as vaccinations for children, or volunteering during emergencies. 
  • This list can be expanded or reduced as per the government’s social goals and availability of funds. 
  • The conditional transfers should be given preferably to the female head of households using a “Citizen Card” which operates like a debit card.
  • The Brazil’s Bolsa Familia Programme is a significant example of this category DBT. 

Intergovernmental fiscal transfers:

  • The 15th Finance Commission can design and integrate such intergovernmental fiscal transfers in their final report, to be submitted on October 2020.
  • To strengthen “Payment for Work” programmes, like MGNREGA. When the environment is more conducive, the government can roll out work programmes. 
  • In the post-Covid era, the government acting as “employer of last resort” is very relevant. 
  • The drastic reduction in budgetary allocation for this scheme is alarming, and the deviation between what is estimated and the actual needs course correction.
  • Design “Nudge Payments”, which make it more likely for an individual/family to make benevolent choices or behave in a particular way. 
  • An example is rewarding people to follow health guidelines. So, staying indoors gets a small reward. Monitoring is easy with the deployment of Aarogya Setu app or other metrics. 
  • In future, this can be extended to other health guidelines.

Conclusion:

  • It is vital to strengthen the existing fiscal package, by tweaking existing “means-tested policies” with a more effective exercise of morally required equity. 
  • It would be a promise of equity, not equality, a new starting line set above the poverty line. More importantly, it will not be an ad hoc one.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 07 May 2020 (Prepare for long haul (Indian Express))



Prepare for long haul (Indian Express)



Mains Paper 2: Health 
Prelims level: COVID 19
Mains level: Need a pragmatic approach towards to combat COVID 19

Context:

  • The coronavirus pandemic has created an unprecedented crisis. 
  • It has spread rapidly, catching governments, local administrations and public health systems unprepared. All countries — rich or poor — have been adversely affected.

For India’s perspective: 

  • For India — a country of 1.3 billion with socio-economic disparities, and hundreds of millions of poor, unemployed and underemployed labourers — the virus has posed critical challenges. 
  • The country has been under a total lockdown since March 25, which has now been extended to May 17. 
  • But the virus is still spreading and the lockdown restrictions have to be extended further. On March 25, India had only 627 confirmed cases spread over 130 districts. 
  • On May 3 — the last day of phase II of the lockdown — the number of affected districts stood at 401 with 42,836 confirmed cases, now rising by over 2,000 a day. 

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Bipartisan support: 

  • India’s lockdown has been arguably the harshest. It was supported by all major political parties, and elected state governments of which 11 are controlled by the opposition.
  • This bipartisan consensus was made possible as containment of the virus was considered necessary.
  • The lockdown has helped in slowing the spread and flattening the curve. Tracking suspected cases, their contacts and testing them has been relentlessly pursued. 
  • This period has also provided space for the Centre and state governments to ramp up testing facilities, and strengthen a fragile public health system for a possible post-lockdown surge.

Burden on government hospital: 

  • The pandemic has brought to fore the glaring shortcomings of the public health system and the over-dependence on private hospitals. 
  • Over the years, there has been a tendency to favour an insurance-based private hospital model and not opt for increasing government spending to expand public healthcare facilities. 
  • Two-thirds of hospital beds in India and almost 80 per cent of available ventilator-equipped ICU beds are in private hospitals. They are handling only 10 per cent of the COVID load. 
  • For a country with a large number of poor and socially vulnerable citizens, private healthcare is neither accessible nor affordable. 
  • Ironically, in this time of crisis, it is the government hospitals that are taking on the burden.

Resources on public healthcare infrastructure: 

  • This pandemic should be a wake-up call for the government to allocate more resources for public healthcare infrastructure. 
  • It is persisting with the controversial Central Vista Project which costs Rs 20,000 crore. This will also be a criminal waste of public money when there is already a paucity of resources to fight the pandemic. 
  • The government is withholding DA installments and accepting loans from the World Bank to fight the pandemic. 
  • India needs well-equipped government hospitals and not grand buildings which will serve no public purpose.

Impact of lockdown: 

  • The shutdown of the economy has inflicted unbearable social and economic costs. An estimated 122 million jobs in the formal and informal sectors have been lost. 
  • The informal sector which employs 90 per cent of the workforce and the MSME’s are worst hit.
  • The lockdown was hastily imposed by the Central government without any advance preparation or coordination. 
  • There were no consultations with the state governments. Abrupt cancellations of trains, buses and bans on movement of all vehicles led to confusion and despair. Millions were stranded without food and money. Untold suffering was inflicted on them.
  • The fallout on the large number of casual workers and migrant construction and farm labourers has been severe. Migrant labour desperate to return to their native villages were stranded and trapped in harsh conditions. 
  • Thousands of migrant workers deprived of their livelihoods were forced to walk back to their villages. 
  • The images of men and women — many pregnant, carrying their belongings and children, the elderly and young ones, starving and crying — will remain forever frozen in our memory.

Fundamental questions: 

  • The enforcement of the first lockdown without consultation with the states raises fundamental questions.
  • India has a federal structure and in the constitutional scheme of things, healthcare is a State subject and contagious diseases is on Concurrent list. 
  • Also, trade and commerce within the state and industry are State subjects. But all decisions were arbitrarily taken by the Centre under the National Disaster Management Authority Act of 2005. This approach has long-term implications on Centre-state relations.

Way forward:

  • India is staring at a prolonged recession and massive unemployment. The financial package provided by the government is very small to make any meaningful impact. A financial package of 5 per cent of GDP is a must to revive the economy. The government has directed industry to pay full wages to their workers. 
  • MSME’s should be given government-guaranteed finance at zero interest to enable them to pay their workers. The fiscal deficit and inflation issues can be put in abeyance until April 2021.
  • For the poor — 75 per cent of rural and 50 per cent of urban households — food security has to be guaranteed. Fortunately, the granaries are full with 77.5 million tonnes of buffer food grain stocks.
  • A phased exit from the lockdown has started. Industrial activity, movement of cargo and limited retail trade has resumed. 
  • This will help to balance the twin objectives of saving lives and livelihoods. 
  • It will also save the economy as the collateral damage is bound to be far greater if the lockdown is extended.

Conclusion: 

  • The lockdown has definitely slowed the spread of the virus. It will resurface once the restrictions are eased. 
  • The virus spread, it appears now is beyond the ability of state to contain by quarantining. 
  • Ensuring personal protective equipment for doctors and healthcare workers and providing required resources and logistical support to government hospitals is essential to prepare for the next wave.
  • India has to be prepared for a long haul. A pragmatic approach is the need of the hour.

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