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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 20 April 2020 (Telephone survey shows highunderstanding of social distancing, support for lockdown(Indian Express))



Telephone survey shows highunderstanding of social distancing, support for lockdown(Indian Express)



Mains Paper 1:Society 
Prelims level:Social Distancing 
Mains level: Effects of lockdown and its future outlook 

Context:

  • With the nation in the midst of an extended lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the question of what to do next looms large. We are operating in a brave new world where modern governance has met an old-fashioned enemy. 

Historical background: 

  • The Spanish flu epidemic of 1918 is believed to have killed more than 15 million Indians and COVID-19 is seen to be almost as virulent. 
  • At the same time, there are more weapons in our arsenal to deal with this enemy today than a century ago.
  • Worldwide, social distancing is seen as a way to reduce the spread of the disease until health systems are able to cope with it and a vaccine is developed. 
  • The challenge we face is between public health needs and the requirement to keep the wheels of the economy rolling. 

How has the lockdown affected the society? 

  • While there is no crystal ball to predict the future, a recently completed Delhi National Capital Region Coronavirus Telephone Survey (DCVTS) by the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER) offers interesting insights into the present. 
  • The NCAER National Data Innovation Centre has carried out the Delhi Metropolitan Area Study (DMAS) since February 2019. 
  • It has surveyed over 5,000 urban and rural households in Delhi as well as in the surrounding districts of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Rajasthan via in-person interviews. 
  • Between April 3 and April 6, 2020, about 1,750 households from this larger study were surveyed in a telephone interview about their understanding of symptoms and transmission of the novel coronavirus as well as their experience of the lockdown.
  • The massive communications effort undertaken by the government ensured that every single person interviewed had heard of coronavirus and 95 per cent believed it to be very dangerous. 
  • When asked to identify symptoms of the infection, they could easily distinguish between coronavirus as a respiratory disease as opposed to a gastrointestinal disease. 
  • The next stage of communications messaging, however, will need to focus on helping people identify when to seek help. 

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Should we continue it for a few more weeks? 

  • Respondents reported that the lockdown resulted in substantial reduction in income in the preceding two weeks. 
  • About 55 per cent respondents said that their incomes had reduced “very much” while 30 per cent said it had reduced “somewhat”. 
  • Most of the income drop occurred in households that drew income from casual labour or petty business. 
  • Regular salaried workers were somewhat isolated, as were farmers. Among households where the primary source of income was casual labour, 75 per cent suffered large income loss compared to 47 per cent for regular salaried workers. 
  • The drop in income affected households in the bottom 20 per cent of the wealth distribution more than those in the top 20 per cent — 62 per cent in the bottom quintile reported a large decline in income compared to 42 per cent at the top. 
  • This lends strength to the urgency for ensuring income support to households below the poverty line.

Using the tool of social distancing: 

  • Social distancing, one of the primary weapons in our arsenal, is understood by most households and people are making an effort to follow it. 
  • About 85 per cent of the respondents noted some form of social distancing as a way of preventing infection. 
  • When asked about how many people they had come in contact with outside the house over the preceding 24 hours, over 50 per cent responded that they had not come in contact with anyone. 
  • Most of the others noted only one or two contacts outside the house. However, a minority of individuals had a large number of contacts. 
  • Many were in occupations like shopkeeping that did not allow them to distance themselves. 
  • We will need to develop strategies, such as use of masks, that allows these individuals to continue to offer essential services while reducing spread of the disease.

Way forward:

  • An emergency, like the threat of coronavirus, brings out the best and the worst of ourselves. 
  • It has brought forth a civic response unlike any we have seen in the past outside of war times. Regardless of their personal situation, individuals stand ready to fight the virus. 
  • In spite of some missteps, it has also brought out the strength of the Indian bureaucracy in identifying the challenge and in mobilising strategies like social distancing before the virus had a chance to spread to rural India. 
  • At the same time, it has also amplified preexisting vulnerabilities where some segments of the society face greater challenges due to loss in incomes or are at a higher risk due to preexisting conditions such as diabetes or heart condition. 

Conclusion:

  • The coronavirus threat also highlights the vulnerability of the Indian health system, forcing us to make difficult choices in who to test, whom to treat and when to treat as we try to deal with shortages in testing supplies and treatment facilities.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 20 April 2020 (Why COVID-19 is a data problem as well as a public health issue (Indian Express))



Why COVID-19 is a data problem as well as a public health issue (Indian Express)



Mains Paper 2:Health 
Prelims level:R-naught
Mains level: Highlights the implication of CFR and R-naught data uses

Context:

  • Unless you are an infectious disease specialist or an epidemiologist, there’s a good chance that you had little to no interest in terms like R-naught, case fatality rate (CFR) and community transmission before January 2020.
  • R-naught:
  • R-naught is the rate of transmission of infection. 
  • An R-naught of three would mean that one sick person gives the infection to three healthy people on average. 

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Advantages: 

  • Most of us are much more aware now of how pathogens spread and why we must each play our part in containing them. We are also much better primed now to follow difficult public health measures like physical distancing (previously called social distancing). 
  • Additionally the guidelines, infrastructure and knowledge we build now should give us greater confidence in our ability to handle any future outbreaks.

Disadvantages: 

  • This could be fixating on some public health tools at the expense of other information that could be crucial to manage this crisis precipitated by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, which has made more than 21 lakh people sick and claimed nearly 1.5 lakh lives in the 16 weeks since it was first reported in Wuhan, China.

CFR and R-naught data uses: 

  • CFR and R-naught, while extremely useful in general, are less so during an evolving health crisis.
  • Johns Hopkins University and Medicine data show that the CFR of COVID-19 varies from 0.2% in Singapore to 15.3% in Algeria – the same data set puts this rate at 3.3% for India. So while this data does tell us that different countries are faring differently with this virus, it does not tell us what to expect when the virus enters a new region of the world.
  • Similarly, the R-naught for the new coronavirus varies across the globe, depending on factors like population density and level of preparedness.That said, any changes in R-naught at a district, state or country level could be significant – an upward trend would indicate a potential rise in infections, and necessitate more steps to build preparedness. 
  • On the other hand, a downward trend could be seen as reassuring: once the R-naught drops below 1, that’s when we can say that the outbreak is at an end.

Still more useful figures to collect and look at during this pandemic could be:

  • The number and distribution of doctors and healthcare facilities in each community: We have mentioned in an earlier article that if we are able to map the healthcare personnel and infrastructure of this country accurately, then we can build better preparedness to deal with the COVID-19 infection in every community and every home of India. 
  • Size of elderly population in the country: India’s 104 million people over the age of 60 (according to Census 2011) should be another important figure for us during this outbreak. These are the people most likely to get severe symptoms of COVID-19 if they get the infection. Protecting them through strict home quarantine (with lots of social engagement and care from a safe distance) should be a top priority, to reduce the burden on critical care infrastructure as well as the COVID-19 death toll. 
  • Doubling rate: This is the number of days over which confirmed cases of coronavirus infection double. As of 17 April, this rate stood at 6.2 days in India compared with three days before the lockdown. It would be important to manage this rate once we come out of lockdown also. 
  • The number of people who need to become immune to the disease: Indian epidemiologist Dr Jayaprakash Muliyil has pointed out that once the lockdown is lifted, we should expect a rise in the number of COVID-19 cases. Now this number will naturally start to plateau at some point.
  • The key challenges, in the meantime, would be to protect the most vulnerable: older people and those with chronic illnesses like diabetes, heart disease and lung disease who could get very sick if they get COVID-19.

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Conclusion: 

  • Indeed the greatest test for India will come when the lockdown is lifted. 
  • Separating the important data from everything else may help us to take the necessary preventive actions going forward.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 20 April 2020 (India’s ATM ecosystem needs urgent repair, especially now (The Hindu))



India’s ATM ecosystem needs urgent repair, especially now (The Hindu)



Mains Paper 3:Economy 
Prelims level:ATM
Mains level: Improving ATM ecosystem 

Context:

  • In order to provide relief to those hit hard by the nationwide lockdown, the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana is relying heavily on direct cash transfers into bank accounts of the poor. 
  • The Centre has claimed that over 32 crore beneficiaries — women Jan Dhan account holders, farmers, construction workers and seniors — have already received ₹29,350 crore in bank credits, which they are now free to withdraw. 

Poor performance by ATMs: 

  • Given inadequate ATM penetration and their poor maintenance in India’s hinterland, reports are emerging of poor folk trudging for miles only to find the local ATM not operating at all or short of cash to disburse. 
  • ATM users in far-flung areas complain of cash shortages, service providers cite difficulties in effecting repairs and refilling cash at ATMs amid the lockdown. 
  • The truth though is that India’s ATM network outside the cities has been in decline since the 2016 demonetisation, with both banks and third-party players clearly disinterested in setting affairs right. 

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Addressing regulatory problems:

  • There’s the long-simmering issue of low interchange fees that ATM providers are allowed to levy to permit other banks’ customers to access their machines. 
  • ATM operators have for long argued that the RBI-mandated fee of ₹15 is too low for viable operations, particularly in rural areas where footfalls are sporadic. But the RBI and some factions of the banking industry have been strangely reluctant to accede to this hike. 
  • Last June, the regulator lobbed this issue to a committee, but the report is yet to be made public or acted upon. While white-labelled ATMs offer a good solution, entrants to this arena have been hobbled by the RBI’s convoluted rules mandating year-wise and city-wise quotas for the rollout. 
  • The RBI and the Ministry of Home Affairs have also dashed off a series of circulars asking ATM operators to effect software and security upgrades to make their ATMs safer. 
  • Such investments are much-needed, but operators complain that they further stretch ATM break-evens. 
  • ATM operations have also been hobbled by a shake-out in cash management firms after the RBI specified that they needed to maintain a minimum net worth of ₹100 crore, a fleet size of 300 vehicles, two armed guards and other bells and whistles, in a sudden change of ground-rules last year.

Conclusion: 

  • Overall, the complete lack of co-ordination between participants in the ATM ecosystem — regulator included — is hurting the hapless small savers the most. 
  • Without access to the cash that is being promised, many of the NDA regime’s much-touted social welfare schemes — from PM Kisan to the Garib Kalyan Yojana — risk remaining only on paper.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 20 April 2020 (The dilemma of power demand (Financial Express))



The dilemma of power demand (Financial Express)



Mains Paper 3:Economy 
Prelims level:Electricity distribution companies
Mains level: Factors related to aggregate demand projection in power sectors

Context:

  • The reduction in power demand during the Covid-19 lockdown explains that the demand of power depends largely on the level of socioeconomic activities. 
  • Meeting the full demand would be a function of available generation, access to load centre and also the health of electricity distribution companies (discoms). 

Background:

  • India had a total generating capacity of about 368 gigawatts (GW) as on January 2020, whereas the maximum peak demand reached so far was around 183GW. 
  • The renewable energy capacity has also doubled over the last five yearsto become almost 23% of the installed capacity of utilities.
  • Even though electricity generated from renewable energy sources is still only 9%, due to the low capacity utilisation factor (CUF) of about 14-15%.

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Power purchase agreements:

  • The current extent of flexibilisation in conventional thermal plants cannot efficiently make up for variability induced by must-run renewable energy plants. 
  • As a result, discoms have done more power purchase agreements (PPAs) than required, and now end up paying excess fixed charges. The problem has further been compounded by the current downside in consumption and peak load due to the lockdown. 
  • The comparison of peaks of certain dates shows that the peak load was growing compared to the previous year demand, but started to reduce from the day of the Janta Curfew.

Factors related to aggregate demand projection:

  • The system of aggregate demand projection has not been robust in the country. 
  • The aggregate power demand is directly connected with the growth rate of the gross domestic product (GDP). 
  • The GDP growth rate of 8-10% was used in demand projection of the 18th Electric Power Survey (EPS; 2012-17) and, consequently, actual demand remained much below the projected one. 
  • Income elasticity of electricity demand is found higher in the relatively less-developed eastern region, leading to higher growth in electricity demand with increasing income. 
  • Relatively slower growth in electricity demand has been observed in developed states, i.e. industrialised states, although in absolute value they are quite high.
  • The impact of Covid-19 on power demand would be better understood once the lockdown is lifted. 
  • If industrial activities in developed states suffer from reverse migration of workforce, and the public consumption does not pick up in developing states due to deprivation of domestic remittance, then it may affect demand adversely. 
  • It would, therefore, be desirable to hasten industrial production in developed states and ensure adequate income to strengthen consumption in developing states.
  • Demand estimates of 19th EPS (2017-22) also face great challenges and may go haywire in the wake of global slowdown and Covid-19. 
  • Energy-efficiency schemes such as solarisation of agri-pumps, Perform, Achieve and Trade (PAT) for designated industries, LED bulb campaign, and the Standards and Labelling programme (Star rating) are likely to reduce electricity demand on the grid.

Giving tax concession: 

  • Tax concession for establishing MSMEs in identified pockets can enhance demand as well as remove regional inequality and create local employment. 
  • The Covid-19 crisis should be leveraged as an opportunity for introducing tariff reforms. 
  • Rationalisation of industrial and commercial tariff; reducing cross-subsidy regime in coal, railways and power sector; introduction of demand-linked tariff slabs; preferential tariff to energy-intensive industries; introduction of time and type of use tariff; and incentivising electric vehicles through lower tariffs can boost power demand and resolve the dilemma.

Way forward:

  • Post-2014, India added more than 100GW capacity in three years. 
  • With surplus installed capacity, India needs to accelerate electric cooking, electric mobility and electrification of railways. 
  • We must search new opportunities of cost-effective storage technology, diversified usages and overseas trade of electricity to utilise full capacity.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 20 April 2020 (Covid-19 crisis: Farming needs urgent action (Financial Express))



Covid-19 crisis: Farming needs urgent action (Financial Express)



Mains Paper 3:Economy 
Prelims level:PM-Kisan
Mains level: Cash transfer and other agricultural support to the farmers

Context:

  • The Covid-19 crisis is likely to pose a serious challenge to agriculture and rural economy. 

Measuring the impact:

  • The impact could be different at different levels and across time horizons. 
  • Immediate supply-chain disruptions could translate into demand contraction later in the rural economy, which could have an adverse impact on economic growth.
  • In the short run (before the lockdown ends), the problems are twofold. 
  • Farmers are unable to harvest and market Rabi crops (wheat, gram, mustard), and also fruits and vegetables.
  • This is because of non-availability of labour and machinery for harvesting, lack of transport facilities and closure of markets/mandis. 
  • They are unable to use cold storages for crops like potato because of closure of cold storages and short supply of ammonia needed for cold storages. 
  • It can lead to crops wasting away on the field, local distress sales and lower prices for farmers.

Lack of agricultural labours:

  • This segment is unable to earn a living because of movement restrictions and lack of adequate income and safety nets. 
  • But the problems will not disappear after the lockdown. Immediately upon its lifting, large-scale arrivals are very likely in the markets.

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Impact on farmers income:

  • Farmers’ incomes in the Rabi season are likely to be much lower owing to likely crop losses and the likely depression of prices due to sudden rush in agricultural markets. 
  • Farm labourers are certain to face lower earnings because of movement restrictions and low agricultural activity. 
  • These, combined with lowered demand for animal products such as chicken, on account of Covid-19 fears, the incomes of rural population are likely to be hit very hard. 
  • Also, a slowdown in the construction sector, which absorbs majority of agricultural labour in lean seasons, will aggravate this crisis.

Policy initiatives:

  • Urgent policy initiatives are needed. Postponement of procurement to the third week of April and staggering of procurement within states/districts to avoid overcrowding of FCI centres are needed. 
  • Farmers may be incentivised to delay bringing produce to the markets. To this end, higher MSP may be provided for delayed sales to FCI. 
  • Haryana has made a proposal—farmers would get remuneration of Rs 1,925 per quintal of wheat between April 20 and June 5; Rs 1,975 between May 6 and May 31; and Rs 2,050 in June.

Require immediate direct payments:

  • The government has announced frontloading of Rs 2,000 under PM-Kisan. 
  • This amount may be increased to Rs 6,000. Similarly, a payment of Rs 2,000 may be made immediately to all active MGNREGA job card holders. 
  • As per revised MGNREGA wage rate, this payment constitutes wages for only 10 days to job card holders. 
  • There are 8.69 crore beneficiaries of PM-Kisan and 7.6 crore active MGNREGA job card holders.
  • Payments to farmers and farm labourers will entail an expenditure of Rs 67,340 crore, which constitutes 2.1% of estimated sectoral GDP and 0.4% of total GDP. 
  • If the payment to farmers is not hiked to Rs 6,000 and only Rs 2,000 is made, then the expenditure will be much lower at Rs 32,580 crore (just 1% of the estimated sectoral GDP and 0.2% of total GDP).

Way forward:

  • The crisis also provides an opportunity to usher in policy reforms. 
  • Moving away from price and input subsidy-based approach to direct income-based approach is the first one. 
  • When the policy objective is to ensure minimum income for farmers and rural workers, direct income transfer may be a better policy instrument than indirect instruments such as output price support or input subsidies. 
  • A well-functioning eNAM could have helped not only in better price discovery for farmers, but also in maintaining physical distance amongst the actors, which is crucial in the current context.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 18 April 2020 (Use tax salve to lessen COVID-19 pain (Indian Express))



Use tax salve to lessen COVID-19 pain (Indian Express)



Mains Paper 3:Economy 
Prelims level:Vivad se Vishwas Scheme
Mains level: Impact of cash-flow and liquidity problems for taxpayers in an economy 

Context:

  • The government has announced several measures to provide relief to taxpayers and alleviate cash-flow problems faced by them as a result of the disruptions caused by COVID-19. 
  • Highlights about the ordinance: 
  • An ordinance promulgated on March 31, has extended time limits specified in the law for various compliances, for making payments under the ‘Vivad se Vishwas Scheme, 2020’ and making tax-saving investments, etc, falling within the period March 20 to June 29 to June 30. 
  • Reduced rates of interest have been provided in respect of tax payments falling due between March 20 and June 30, if the payments are made by June 30. 
  • Separately, a special dispensation for expedited issue of certificates for lower or nil deduction of tax at source has been introduced. 

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Impact of extending the lockdown period: 

  • However, with the period of lockdown now having been extended to May 3, the cash-flow and liquidity problems for taxpayers are bound to increase.
  • The Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) would do well to examine the need for additional measures. 
  • Drawing upon the compilation of country responses to COVID-19 published recently by the OECD—Forum on Tax Administration as well as requests being voiced by different stakeholders, the following further steps could be considered.

Deferral of tax payments:

  • The reduction in interest rates on deferred tax payments brought in through the ordinance may not provide adequate relief to a large number of taxpayers who are facing, or will be facing, acute cash flow problems due to the lockdown. 
  • Several countries have allowed taxpayers who can demonstrate cash flow problems due to COVID-19 to seek deferment of advance income taxes payable by them for periods up to a year and, in some cases, without payment of any interest.
  • CBDT could consider authorising Commissioners of Income Tax to grant further reduction or even complete waiver of interest chargeable for delays in payments of,
  • (i) advance tax due on June 15 and September 15, and 
  • (ii) self-assessment tax in respect of income of FY20, and due to be deposited by September 30.

Suspension of tax-debt recovery measures:

  • No relaxation has been specified by the ordinance in respect of payment of outstanding tax demands by taxpayers. 
  • Several countries around the world have applied a pause on coercive or active enforcement measures for collection of tax. 

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Faster refunds:

  • Government has already directed immediate issue of all pending tax refunds of amounts up to Rs 5 lakh. 
  • The primary and urgent requirement at present is to provide direly needed cash flow and liquidity to small and medium businesses, and to individuals and senior citizens who are dependent on fixed income sources such as interest and rent. 
  • It is also to be noted that these pending refunds represent the taxpayers’ own money paid in the form of excess taxes. CBDT should, therefore, consider substantially enhancing the monetary limit of Rs 5 lakh for expedited processing of refunds in all cases.

Tax residence:

  • Apprehensions have been expressed by tax professionals that there could be several cases where individuals or managers and employees of non-resident enterprises are stranded, or otherwise find it safer to stay on in India, and the extended periods of stay may give rise to issues of tax residence or of place of effective management.
  • Impacting the taxability in India of the income of such persons or of the enterprises they work for.
  • However, these considerations are essentially based on tax treaties:
  • In order to provide tax certainty even under the domestic law, CBDT may consider issuing a circular to assure taxpayers that, 
  • (i) the place of effective management of a foreign company shall not be taken to be in India merely because certain persons responsible for taking key management and commercial decisions are stranded and unable to leave India for any period of time owing to the impact of COVID-19; and 
  • (ii) any period of time reckoned for the purpose of deciding whether a non-resident individual (including a non-resident Indian) has acquired the status of a resident, or resident, but-not-ordinarily-resident in India, shall not include the period for which the taxpayer establishes that he was forced to remain in India due to COVID-19 considerations.

Conclusion: 

  • The above measures can be carried out through administrative instructions and circulars issued by the CBDT and do not need any amendments to the Income-Tax Act.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 18 April 2020 (Basic income: Towards a path of resilience(Indian Express))



Basic income: Towards a path of resilience (Indian Express)



Mains Paper 3:Economy 
Prelims level: Great Depression 
Mains level: Significance of the transformative economic policy

Context:

  • India has been given time to prepare, or in the jargon of the moment, to get ahead of the curve before the death toll mounts, and the economic slump heaps further misery on people.

Key reasons: 

  • The main reason is that the economic crisis has been waiting for some time to happen. The pandemic is like a trigger. 
  • The global economic system has evolved into global rentier capitalism, not anything close to free-market capitalism. 
  • With rentier capitalism, more and more of the income and wealth flow to the owners of assets-physical, financial and so-called intellectual property.
  • The share of income going to people who work and labour has been falling across the world.

Crises difference between 1920 and 2020:

  • A hundred years ago, the US economy was able to bounce back because the private debt was less than 50% of national income, corporate debt was insignificant, and the size of the financial sector was not large relative to the real economy.
  • Just before the pandemic struck this year, private debt was over 150% of the US national income, and corporate debt was 73% of GDP. 
  • In Britain, Japan and many other countries, private and corporate debt were also at record levels.
  • This means that the major economies entered the pandemic in an extremely fragile state. The negative multiplier effects of a small downturn will be huge, and this is not going to be small. 

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Requirement of transformative economic policy:

  • It requires brave and transformative economic policy. 
  • While central banks and the international financial agencies will resort to fancy monetary instruments and will do their utmost to prop up corporations and financial markets, it is what happens to ordinary people that will matter most.
  • We should presume that the Indian government is not complacent or timid. But, a key principle must be kept in mind. 
  • Whatever the delaying effect of lock-downs, deaths due to the pandemic and to the ensuing economic downturn will be much higher if ordinary people are not given the resources to be resilient. 
  • Indeed, the slogan should be: Rescue, Resilience, and Revival.

Way ahead:

  • Several interesting schemes are trying to mobilise private money as donations to such initiatives as the PMNRF and PM CARES. 
  • Those are likely to be politicised, and even if they were genuinely philanthropic, there would be widespread suspicion that they have ulterior motives. 
  • Better for the affluent to allocate money to help legitimise a basic income system by making a start in randomly chosen districts, setting an example that the state and central governments could follow with conviction.

Conclusion:

  • There is the technology to be able to identify everybody and deliver basic incomes (it could even induce much more documentation). 
  • Above all, there are potentially millions of lives to be saved.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 18 April 2020 (Collateral damage: Coronavirus poses major challenge for scientific community (Indian Express))



Collateral damage: Coronavirus poses major challenge for scientific community (Indian Express)



Mains Paper 2:Health 
Prelims level: Personal protective equipment
Mains level: Health sector issues and challenges 

Context:

  • As medical containment strategies, and even viral behaviour go, the novel coronavirus has proven to be quite a challenge for the scientific community. 
  • A recent Lancet study noted that 15% of the 247 hospitalised COVID-19 patients in Wuhan, and as many as 50% of those who died, acquired bacterial infections.

Outcome of the study:

  • This, combined with the fact that the virus primarily manifests as a pulmonary disease with pneumonia-like symptoms.
  • It has meant that medical practitioners are becoming increasingly—and dangerously—dependent on antibiotics to manage COVID-19 symptoms, even though these do not directly affect the SARS-CoV-2 virus responsible for the disease. 
  • Now, there are growing concerns that unrestrained usage of antibiotics might fuel the development of drug-resistant bacteria.

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Measures taken so far: 

  • Already, hospitals, especially intensive care units, are hotbeds of antimicrobial resistance. 
  • Now, with the shortage of ventilators and personal protective equipment (PPE) necessitating their sharing and/or reusage, the risk of contracting an infection from a drug-resistant microbe has significantly increased.
  • This is an even greater concern for India, which, according to a Johns Hopkins-CDDEP study published last year, had the highest instance of antibiotic resistance among the 41 countries studied. 
  • Another study lead by CDDEP found resistance to the class of antibiotics used against bacterium K penumoniae, a leading cause of pneumonia and lung infection, to be 56% among Indians. 
  • It is no one’s case that antibiotics not be used to manage the fallout of a raging pandemic. 

Way forward:

  • However, efforts must be focused on decreasing the risk of in situ contraction of infections in hospitals. 
  • And, to that end, ensuring sufficient supply of PPE and crucial medical equipment must be a top priority.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 18 April 2020 (Virus outbreak can potentially spur next quantum leap for computing (Mint))



Virus outbreak can potentially spur next quantum leap for computing (Mint)



Mains Paper 3:Science and Tech 
Prelims level: Quantum Computing 
Mains level: Uses of quantum computing in health sector 

Context:

  • Shortly after China welcomed the new year, the whole world was pressurized into quickly discovering a vaccine and a cure for covid-19. 
  • IBM’s Summitwas busy running numerous simulations and computations to help scientists find promising molecules to fight the pandemic.
  • The latest update says the Summit has been able to identify 77 candidate molecules that researchers can use in trials, and this was achieved in just two days, while, traditionally, it has taken months to make such progress.

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But is this progress fast enough? 

  • Given that we are all living in a connected world, the global carnage wreaked by the virus before we have a viable cure will be in trillions of dollars and thousands of jobs; in this case, we truly don’t have a second to waste.
  • Today, faster molecular discoveries are limited by the computing capacity, as much as the need for scientists to write codes for harnessing the computing power. 
  • It is no secret that classical computing power is plateauing and, till we have scalable artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), scientists will have to write code for not only different scenarios, but also for different computing platforms.
  • What we need today is more computing power and, given that we have already neared the peak of classical computing, the solution probably is quantum computing.
  • Not just vaccines, quantum computing can accelerate many innovations, such as hyper-individualized medicines, 3-D printed organs, search engines for the physical world and, maybe, even the iron-man suit. 
  • All innovations currently constrained by the size of transistors used in classical computing chips can be unleashed through quantum computing.

What next? 

  • Quantum computing uses the ability of sub-atomic particles to exist in multiple states simultaneously, until it is observed. 
  • Unlike classical computers that can store information in just two values, that is 1 or 0, quantum computing uses qubits that can exist in any superposition of these values, enabling quantum computers to solve in seconds problems which a classical computer would take thousands of years to crack. 
  • The application of this technology is enormous, and just to cite a few, it can help with the discovery of new molecules, optimize financial portfolios for different risk scenarios, crack RSA encryption keys, detect stealth aircraft, search massive databases in a split second and truly enable AI.

Steps taken by the Government: 

  • In the Union budget this year, the Indian government announced investments of ₹8,000 crore for developing quantum technologies and applications.
  • Globally, too, countries and organizations are rushing to develop this technology and have already invested enormous capital towards its research. These are encouraging signs.
  • Unless we overcome classical computing limits, we will hurtle towards the modern catastrophe of frequent pandemics, uncontrollable climate change, scarcity of water, disappearing coastlines due to melting icebergs, plastic-poisoned water tables, and lifestyle diseases.

Conclusion:

  • Historically, unprecedented crises have always created more innovations than routine challenges or systematic investments. Coincidentally, current times pose similar opportunities in disguise.
  • While the last decade has given us 10x increase in quantum computing, the next quantum leap is expected from a vicious cycle of climate- or health-related catastrophes—covid-19 could be one.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 17 April 2020 (The UN cannot lead us out of this crisis (The Hindu))



The UN cannot lead us out of this crisis (The Hindu)



Mains Paper 2:International 
Prelims level: UN organisations 
Mains level: Role of UN multilateral bodies to combat the crisis 

Context:

  • As economic historian Adam Tooze said, “an entire model of global economic development has been brought skidding to a halt” by the Covid-19 crisis, exposing the malignant methods which have worked to channel wealth to those at the top while draining the public purse and stretching public services — upon which the health and resilience of most of us depend — to a breaking point.
  • Finding our way out
  • In rapid succession, novice UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak discovered his inner Keynes; US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin became an (unwitting) advocate of universal basic income; and German Chancellor Angela Merkel abandoned her religious devotion to strict debt and fiscal rules. 
  • Whether this will be enough to prevent another Great Depression remains to be seen. 
  • As Tooze warns, with the main centres of economic and political power disoriented, it is unclear “who will lead the way out of the crisis”.
  • Ideally, the job should fall on those institutions tasked with international cooperation and coordination. The signs so far are mixed. 

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Varying influence:

  • The World Health Organization — very much in the eye of the Covid-19 storm — has had a difficult few weeks. 
  • It was the first UN agency with universal membership, mandated to control the spread of contagious diseases, backstop public health programmes, formualte standards on nutrition and hygiene and establish a centre for comparative health data. 
  • But as historian Mark Mazower has argued, from its earliest days, the WHO was under pressure from the US government to adopt a technical assistance approach to disease eradication, in line with advanced pharmaceutical interests, rather than an global advocate of public health policy.

Role of World Trade Organization:

  • The World Trade Organization is the most recent arrival to the multilateral family based in Geneva. 
  • Emerging from the GATT as the custodian of the Uruguay Round’s expanded trade agenda and a standard bearer for open and efficient global markets, it is uniquely blessed with a dispute mechanism that can discipline reprobate governments that break its rules. 
  • This has made it the institution of choice for advanced countries determined to promote the kind of corporate-friendly rules that align with their own economic interests. 
  • That two-stage dispute mechanism almost died in December, as the US spread its unilateralism virus.
  • Nothing to contribute
  • A different message might be expected from Azevado’s counterpart at the UNCTAD, an organisation established over 50 years ago by developing countries to support their efforts to redress the biases and asymmetries in the trading system. 
  • In truth, the UNCTAD has been drifting in a neoliberal direction since its nineth conference in South Africa in 1996, albeit with moments of resistance by previous Secretary-Generals from Brazil and Thailand. 

Way forward:

  • Geneva is, no doubt, a pleasant enough place from which to indulge in the niceties of international diplomacy. 
  • But its multilateral credentials have been withering on the vine of comfortable complacency for years, too distant from the harsh realities of neoliberal capitalism in the developing world.
  • Too dependent on the big financial players in Washington for policy guidance and too close to the big European donors for the money that keeps the Geneva international machine ticking over.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 17 April 2020 (Ahead of the Covid curve (Indian Express))



Ahead of the Covid curve (Indian Express)



Mains Paper 2:Health 
Prelims level: COVID curve
Mains level: Kerala model of health infrastructure system 

Context:

  • The COVID curve in Kerala is nearly 50 per cent while the all-India average is around 11. 
  • While the mortality rate among the infected is 0.5 per cent in Kerala, the all-India average is 3.4 per cent. 
  • The transmission rate of a primary carrier is 2.6 while in Kerala it is only 0.4.

Preparing for the next challenge: 

  • Kerala is preparing for the next challenge, the outcome of which will determine the result of the war against COVID. 
  • Lifting of the lockdown is going to result in an influx of returning migrants from foreign countries and other states. 

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Preparedness:

  • That is the key word to the success of Kerala and the key lesson to be learned from it. 
  • The single most important factor that enabled us to be prepared for the COVID is the strength of our public health system. 
  • All over the globe, we are witnessing serious market failures in the health sector in the context of the pandemic crisis. 
  • Policymakers are learning the hard way of the importance of a public health network.
  • The morale of health personnel has been exceptionally high. 
  • Special training, protective gear, scientific duty rotation and, most importantly, societal empathy and solidarity, have all contributed. 

Route map for COVID positive cases:

  • A route map of each COVID positive case is prepared and given publicity, alerting everybody who might have been in contact. 
  • The protocol of cycles of intense test, trace, isolate and treatment has been the norm. 
  • Kerala has the highest test rate in the country. Break the Chain Campaign to promote social distancing has been successful. This is indeed a very important lesson. 
  • Lockdown by itself is not going to contain the COVID spread. It would continue to multiply within households and dormitories. 
  • Testing has been woefully insufficient in the national response so far.

Economic revival challenges: 

  • The lockdown destroys livelihoods and it is the duty of the state to ensure subsistence through income transfers and free rations. 
  • The transfer of Rs 500 to Jan Dhan accounts and additional 5 kg grain rations have been woefully inadequate. 
  • The payment to construction workers, which is a major component of the Centre`s package, is from the state-level construction workers’ welfare funds.
  • Lack of adequate financial resources has been the biggest impediment faced by the government. 
  • The state’s own revenues have dried up. The GST compensation is in four month arrears. Credit is freezing for the SLR bonds. 

Way forward: 

  • There are no sufficient resources for relief let alone for the stimulus after the exit from the lockdown. 
  • The Central government has to step in and ensure adequate fiscal space to the states.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 17 April 2020 (Fighting on two fronts (Indian Express))



Fighting on two fronts (Indian Express)



Mains Paper 2:International 
Prelims level: Afghan National Defence and Security Forces
Mains level: Two front challenges for Afghanistan government  

Context:

  • Afghanistan is facing both COVID-19 and terrorism simultaneously. 
  • The Taliban are not to be trusted and they have violated many promises, especially the agreement on the reduction of violence. 
  • Currently, they are fighting against the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF) in different parts of the country — the Afghan security forces have repelled every attack so far. 
  • With the support of our international partners, especially NATO and the Resolute Support Mission (RS) in Afghanistan, the ANDSF has had a few notable achievements of late. 
  • The Afghan security forces are experienced and well-trained to safeguard the country’s security.

Raise SAARC fund: 

  • Earlier, the government approved a contribution of $1 million to the SAARC Emergency Fund to fight COVID-19 in South Asian countries. 
  • SAARC leaders held a virtual conference on March 15 and emphasised cooperation and joint efforts to fight the pandemic. 

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Establishment of the Coronavirus Task Force:

  • The Afghan government has established a technical team that is working with the National Security Council and the Vice President of Afghanistan is leading the Coronavirus Task Force. 
  • It seems they have many vulnerabilities, from refugees and open borders to the dearth of high-level diagnostic capabilities and shortage of good quality medical amenities. 
  • Thousands of refugees are coming to Afghanistan from Pakistan and Iran. 
  • Afghanistan is the gateway to Central Asia so they need regional and international cooperation. 
  • The WHO, like other UN units, has not contributed as much as we hoped in Afghanistan during this time. 
  • Their presence and investment in the country for the past 18 years has been questionable. 
  • This is the right time for WHO-Kabul to take proper action based on regional and international experiences.

Five key aspects: 

  • The President’s strategy to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic has five key aspects: 
  • One, acknowledgement. We have to accept that the pandemic is a threat and requires everyone’s support and contribution. 
  • Two, that it can spread everywhere and to everyone.
  • Three, adversity. We are not at this stage so far, but we have to be ready for such a scenario. 

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Way ahead: 

  • Right now, there is no cure or vaccination for this novel coronavirus. 
  • The only solution is to contain its spread and prevent serious repercussions on peoples’ health and economic systems across the country. 
  • Employing preventive measures like staying at home, taking care of children and the elderly (parents and grandparents, and those who have an illness), stopping unnecessary movement, shopping on behalf of the family once or twice a week, respecting the lockdown measures, supporting the government’s decisions and listening to the advice of healthcare officials.

Conclusion: 

  • We must thank the incredible nurses, doctors, healthcare officials, support staff, police and all other security forces who are working hard around the clock to fight the coronavirus and the terrorists. 
  • Those who lost their lives while fighting COVID-19 will be remembered in the same manner as those who lost their lives on duty in uniform, fighting terrorism to bring peace, security and stability to the country and our region.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 17 April 2020 (Grounded by Covid-19 (Indian Express))



Grounded by Covid-19 (Indian Express)



Mains Paper 3:Economy 
Prelims level: Low-cost carrier model 
Mains level: Low-cost carrier model implementation in aviation sector 

Context:

  • As airlines grapple with the corona crisis and push for a bailout, airline planning departments are already running models to analyse how planes can be profitably put back in the air. 

Key outcomes:

  • For low-cost airlines that now fly eight out of every ten passengers and rely on volumes, quick turnarounds on the ground, leased assets, high aircraft utilisation, crew-efficiency and ancillary revenue, the model is at odds with anticipated policy changes.
  • These are likely to force airline planners and strategists to rethink the low-cost carrier (LCC) model.  
  • Much uncertainty remains, but items can be planned. Key amongst these are sanitation, security procedures and social distancing. 

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Rely on LCC model: 

  • The current LCC model relies on short-ground times referred to as quick turnarounds. 
  • This helps airlines maximise the use of their most expensive and core asset: the aircraft. At $50 million per unit, it is imperative to drive as much productive utilisation as possible. 

Key challenges behind implementation process: 

  • This is achieved by ensuring a high flight time, enabled by keeping the plane for less time on the ground. 
  • Quick turnarounds also maximise labour efficiency and amortise costs driving down unit economics.
  • While measures are still being debated it can be assumed that wait times will increase, and the requirement to get to the airport early will be enhanced. 
  • As such, the convenience of low-cost travel is likely to see an impact. 
  • Further, security costs are paid for by the passenger by levies such as the passenger security fees, and the passenger facilitation charge. These are likely to go up and, in turn, will further impact the cost of travel.
  • For low-cost carriers that rely on low-fares and make money by transporting large volumes, the security measures and their impact will be detrimental to the low-cost demand. And, mitigation measures are few and far between.
  • Finally, the government has already come up with guidelines for airlines that will be allowed to fly as the lockdown restrictions are lifted. 

Conclusion: 

  • Social distancing will also impact the ability to buy food and products onboard. While for passengers, this may be quite bearable, for airlines, this will be another large hit to revenues.
  • Air travel demand is likely to be depressed. Gradually as confidence builds (or declines) depending on reports and reactions, incremental measures will be accepted. 
  • LCC model will not only require tweaking, but a transformation to enable profitability.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 17 April 2020 (Right dosage during pandemic(Indian Express))



Right dosage during pandemic(Indian Express)



Mains Paper 2:Health 
Prelims level: Telemedicine
Mains level: Requirement of Telemedicine in Indian healthcare system

Context:

  • Telemedicine is seeing an increased focus, and the government is committed to supporting its spread. 
  • Dr Ganapathy Krishnan, the Chennai-based neurosurgeon and a pioneer in telemedicine who has been promoting the idea for over 20 years.
  • The Telemedicine Society of India’s (TSI) efforts to have official guidelines passed for the practice of telemedicine in India have borne fruit.

Issuing guidelines:

  • A remotely administered practice of consultation will help stop overcrowding of hospitals during a pandemic.
  • The government has recently cleared several legal issues relating to telemedicine, including medical licences.

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Significance of the Telemedicine methodology: 

  • India has a shortage of healthcare facilities and an inadequate health infrastructure.It is a safety valve for a strained healthcare system. 
  • Telemedicine is a term encompassing methods used to examine, investigate, monitor and treat, with the patient and doctor located in different places. 
  • Unnecessary travelling is eliminated. Image acquisition, storage, display, processing and transfer form the basis of telemedicine.
  • Telehealth provides remote consultation for normal health issues that will affect 5-10% of the quarantined population. Covid-19 suspected patients mustn’t be routinely referred to casualties or OPD services in the hospitals to minimise the risk of exposure to other patients and healthcare providers. 
  • With telemedicine, a single remote clinician can cover multiple sites spread over different geographies.

Can able to work with ICU management: 

  • Telemedicine can work in ICU management as well. 
  • Makeshift improvised emergency ICUs are unlikely to have qualified doctors. Thus, handholding and telementoring are essential. 
  • An existing ICU should act as a central command station connected to new ICUs. It will make all the difference.

Key challenges: 

  • Public-private partnerships in telehealth are now operational in many states. 
  • However, erroneous interpretation of some judgements in the media has ended up questioning the very legality of providing teleconsultations. 
  • All these hurdles have been crossed now. 
  • With great strides in technology and efforts by doctors, telemedicine is finally finding its right place in healthcare.Fast-growing use also creates challenges. 

Way forward: 

  • It takes time to establish the technology infrastructure, recruit virtual providers, provide training on best practices, and educate patients about telehealth through patient-facing websites, social media and direct outreach. 
  • Digital payment must be facilitated as well. Resources need to be mobilised to build infrastructure and capacity. 
  • To encourage patients to take up telehealth options, telehealth professionals should proactively and frequently provide information.

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(Download) Old NCERT PDF : Ancient India by R. S. Sharma

(Download) Old NCERT PDF : Ancient India by R. S. Sharma

Table of Contents :

  • Foreword 
  • Preface to the First Edition 
  • Author's Acknowledgements

1. The Importance of Ancient Indian History

2. The Construction of Ancient Indian History .

  • Material Remains--Coins-Inscriptions-Literary Sources-- Foreign Accounts Historical Sense

3. The Geographical Setting 

4. The Stone Age

  • The Old Stone Age-Phases in the Palaeolithic Age--The Late Stone Age—The New Stone Age .

5. The Stone-Copper Phase

  • Chalcolithic Settlements-Chalcolithic Cultures Importance of the Chalcolithic Phase-Limitations of Chalcolithic Cultures- The Coppor Age in India

6. The Harappan Civilization.

  • Geographical Extent-Town Planning and Structures-Agriculture-Domostication of Animals--Technology and Crafts— Trade-Political Organization-Religious Practices—The Male Deity in the Indus Valley-Tree and Animal Worship-Tho Harappan Script-Weights and Measures-Harappan Pottery-Seals --Images-Terracotta Figurines-Origin, Maturity and End

7. Advent of the Aryans and the Age of the Rig Veda

  • Original Home and Identity-Tribal Conflicts-Material LifeTribal Polity-Tribe and Family-Social Divisions-Rig Vedic Gods

8. The Later Vedic Phase : Transition to State and Social Formation .

  • Expansion in the Later Vedic Period (c. 1000-500 B.C.)-The PGW-Iron Phase Culture and Later Vedic Economy-Political Organization --Social Organization-Gods, Rituals and Philosophy

9. Jainism and Buddhism

  • Causes of Origin-Vardhamana Mahavira and Jainism-Doctrines of Jainism-Spread of Jainism ---Contribution of Jainism-Gautama Buddha and Buddhism-Doctrines of Buddhism Special Features of Buddhism and the Causes of its Spread-Causes of the Decline of Buddism-Importance and Influence of Buddhism

10. Territorial States and the First Magadhan Empire

  • The Mahajanapadas-Rise and Growth of the Magadhan Empire -Causes of Magadha's Success

11. Iranian and Macedonian Invasions

  • Iranian Invasion-Results of the Contact--Alexander's Invasion -Effects of Alexander's Invasion

12. State and Varna Society in the Age of the Buddha

  • Material Life-Administrative System-Army and Taxation The Republican Experiment-Social Orders and Legislation

13. The Age of the Mauryas

  • Chandragupta Maurya--Imperial Organization-Asoka (273-232 B.C)-Asokan Edicts--Impact of the Kalinga War--Internal Policy and Buddhism-Asoka's Place' ın History

14. Significance of the Maurya Rule!

  • State Control-Economic RegulationsSpread of Material Culture-Causes of the Fall of the Maurya Empire

15. Central Asian Contacts and Their Results

  • The Indo-Greeks-The Sakas--The Parthians-The Kushans Impact of Central Asian Contacts

16. The Age of the Satavahanas

  • Political History-Aspects of Material Culture Social Organization-Pattern of Administration-Religion--Architectura Language

  • Medium: English
  • OLD NCERT BOOK NAME : Ancient India by R. S. Sharma
  • PRICE: FREE
  • Hosting Charges: Rs. 99/- Rs 29/- Only (Limited Time Offer)
  • File Type: PDF File Download Link via Email

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 16 April 2020 (Coronavirus crisis: Keeping up with the competition (Indian Express))



Coronavirus crisis : Keeping up with the competition (Indian Express)



Mains Paper 3:Economy
Prelims level: Competition law
Mains level: Significance and relaxations of the Competition law

Context:

  • Amidst this pandemic, businesses are being forced to either adjust or realign their response. 
  • While it is natural for companies to explore innovative means, they must remain cautious of abiding by the competition laws.

Significance of the Competition law:

  • Competition law prohibits collaboration between competitors to fix prices, restrict output, allocate markets/customers and rig bids, also called ‘cartel agreements’. 
  • These are often ascribed debasing sobriquets such as the ‘ultimate evil of antitrust’. 
  • The law prohibits an abuse of position via unfair prices or conditions for sale of goods and services.

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Conditions of the suspension of competition rules: 

  • Historically, adverse economic or social conditions have not resulted in a suspension of competition rules. 
  • Competition authorities have explicitly stated that they will continue to monitor business behaviour. 
  • However, there is also a realisation that businesses, especially competitors, amidst lockdown, may come together, communicate, and collaborate for production, distribution, transportation, and supply of essential commodities, FMCGs, and healthcare products.
  • Pharmacies, for instance, may wish to pool their stock. 
  • Supermarkets may wish to cooperate on home delivery of groceries, logistics companies may wish to ensure continuity of supplies and airlines may wish to allocate geographies. 
  • Recently, Pfizer and BioNTech entered an unprecedented collaboration to co-develop and distribute a coronavirus vaccine. Such collaborations, otherwise, may have been subject to antitrust scrutiny.

Not to increase the cost of essential supplies: 

  • Competition authorities have also made it clear that the crisis should not become a “cover” for non-essential collaborations to obtain economic benefits by restricting or increasing the cost of essential supplies. 
  • In a free market, when demand outstrips supply, prices go up, and companies tend to resort to various forms of anti-competitive practices. 
  • Many competition authorities across the globe were quick to investigate such practices. 

Shortage of essential supplies to India: 

  • India is grappling with a massive shortage of foodstuff, FMCG products, and PPEs, coupled with widespread disruption in online and offline retail supply chains. 
  • India’s retail trade has incurred an estimated $30 billion in losses, and approximately 13.6 crore jobs may be affected. 
  • The government has rolled out various interim relaxations of statutory and regulatory compliance for individuals and companies under the Companies Act, IBC, Tax, Electricity Act, SEBI, and others. 
  • No exemption to any sector/class/company has yet been announced under the (Indian) Competition Act, 2002. 

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Not neglect in compliance:

  • India companies must not neglect compliance, especially those active in the FMCG, healthcare, pharmaceutical, and PPE sectors. 
  • Legal advice must be sought before making a deviation from existing practices. 
  • Another aspect, calls for companies to specifically consider competition law when asked by the government to collaborate with competitors or when approached by competitors, even if the objective is to meet public health or provide essential services.
  • Companies considering Mergers and Acquisitions deals should not be tempted to circumvent merger filings during the crisis. Commendably, the CCI has partially resumed its operations by permitting Mergers and Acquisitions filings electronically. 
  • However, deal approvals may be delayed as the CCI officers are working remotely till May 3 (which may be extended). 
  • Hence, companies should strategise how to deal with timing risk: ensure that long-stop dates are sufficient and factor in that merger control approvals may take longer than expected.

Way forward:

  • It remains to be seen if CCI takes a cue from other jurisdictions and waives certain collaborations/compliances from the purview of the Competition Act, while ensuring, at the same time that any such regulatory relaxation is not misused. 
  • The companies and related industry associations may approach the government where they feel that collaborations in their sector warrant exemption. 
  • The government will likely consult the CCI for any temporary suspension since it is already under pressure to minimise the resulting damage to health and economy.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 16 April 2020 (Coronavirus pandemic: Technology at core of all strategies to mitigate economic impact(Indian Express))



Coronavirus pandemic: Technology at core of all strategies to mitigate economic impact(Indian Express)



Mains Paper 3:Science and Tech
Prelims level: World Economic Forum report
Mains level: Adaptations of technologies to develop future-proof workforce strategies

Context:

  • The nationwide lockdown for three weeks announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to contain the COVID-19 spread was, as expected, extended beyond April 14 for another few weeks. 

How will the country continue to control the pandemic? 

  • The developments are being keenly watched, and data is being monitored. 
  • Every effort—from packages to boost the economy and focus on healthcare to applause for frontline workers and appeals on humane grounds.

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Work and life will never be the same again:

  • The world will see major social, behavioural, and social changes. 
  • Amidst all this, what has emerged is that technology will play a key role at every level, both in the public and private sector. 
  • Firms that provide technology-based solutions in various fields, like healthcare, urban reforms, climate change, education, and many others, can become crucial problem-solvers during this time of crisis.

World Economic Forum report:

  • The World Economic Forum report had indicated that the jobs of the future are set to grow by 51% in the horizon up to 2020.
  • It had projected 6.1 million job opportunities globally, mainly in the adoption of new technologies—giving rise to greater demand for green economy jobs, and roles at the forefront of the data-and-AI economy. 
  • While these numbers would no longer hold good following COVID-19, technological progress is essential to economic growth, and can accelerate the efforts toward economic revival. 

Investments into technology:

  • At this point of time and even after, can save the time it takes to produce a good or deliver a service, contribute to the overall profits of a business, increase business output rate efficiency, and increase division of labour and job specialisation.
  • Post the Coronavirus crisis, the world would see increased use of virtual technology for meetings, substantial investment in science and medicine, use of AI and cloud-based technology, increase in e-learning, wide use of telemedicine, and reduction in overheads, including lower rents and travel costs. 
  • Work from home and virtual meetings will be part of routine work culture. Governments are going to be bigger, stronger, and hopefully more efficient, with a rise in nationalism and self-dependency. 
  • Even the government would need to increase its use of technology and automation in all areas, including management of its social sector programmes across health, education, public distribution, employment guarantee, etc, besides its regular operations. 
  • There will be a reduction in field visits, and human interaction.

Develop future-proof workforce strategies: 

  • It is here that a collaborative action by industry and other stakeholders to develop future-proof workforce strategies, and support at-risk workers with reskilling and upskilling will play a crucial role. 
  • Not only will it have the potential to facilitate digital transformation but can also limit job losses in the wake of the current recession. 
  • A preliminary assessment International Labour Organization report, COVID-19 and the world of work.
  • Impacts and responses mentions that nearly 25 million jobs could be lost due to the Coronavirus crisis. 
  • If COVID-19 persists further, the numbers would be much higher, as is already being seen in the US.

Conclusion:

  • Hence, at a time like this, all key stakeholders should be putting their heads together to mitigate the economic impact of the Coronavirus pandemic, and suggest implementable strategies. 
  • Technology will be at the core of all these strategies, especially in a sector like healthcare.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 16 April 2020 (Economic liberalisation and its faults (The Hindu))



Economic liberalisation and its faults (The Hindu)



Mains Paper 3:Economy 
Prelims level: Licence Raj
Mains level: Pros and cons of the economic liberalisation

Context:

  • Dr. Manmohan Singh’s 1991-92 Budget speech marked the beginning of the end of the ‘Licence Raj’ in India. 
  • The Budget also announced the reduction of import duties and paved the way for foreign-manufactured goods to flow into India. 
  • Following this, most of the manufacturing sector was opened up to foreign direct investment. 
  • India’s industrial policy was virtually junked, and policymakers and the political leadership became contemptuous of the idea of self-reliance. 

A disastrous model:

  • In the late 1980s, transnational corporations started shifting the production base to smaller companies in developing countries, especially Asia, in search of cheap labour and raw materials. 
  • Developed countries supported the move because shifting the polluting and labour-intensive industries suited them as long as ownership remained with their companies. 

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Emergence of China:

  • Though many developing countries participated in the global production/value/supply chains, the substantial value addition in developing countries happened in a few production hubs, of which China emerged to be a major one. 
  • Manufacturing shifted from a decentralised production system spread across different counties to just a few locations. 
  • However, countries like China defied the logic of supply/value chains ensuring substantial value addition for themselves. 
  • They even carried out backward integration and thus emerged as global manufacturing hubs for certain products. 
  • In the case of health products, China became the global supplier of active pharmaceutical ingredients (API), personal protective equipment (PPE), and medical devices diagnostics. 

Implications for the COVID-19 outbreak:

  • The resultant loss of manufacturing base has affected the ability of many governments, including of developed countries, to put up an effective response to the crisis. 
  • The U.K. Prime Minister asked the country’s manufacturers to produce ventilators in order to provide care for critical COVID-19 patients. 
  • Similarly, the U.S. President invoked the Defense Production Act of 1950 to ramp up N95 mask production. 
  • Under this legislation, the U.S. President can direct U.S. manufacturers to shift from their normal manufacturing activities to produce goods according to the directions of the government. 
  • Similarly, the French Health Minister stated that the country may nationalise vaccine companies if necessary. Spain nationalised all its private hospitals. 
  • Israel and Chile issued compulsory licences to ensure that medicines are affordable. 

Economic growth led by the private sector: 

  • In an indirect show of power, Chinese billionaire Jack Ma sent a flight containing 5.4 million face masks, kits for 1.08 million detection tests, 40,000 sets of protective clothing and 60,000 protective face shields to the U.S. 
  • This exposes the poor state of preparedness and dependence on imports for essential goods required to meet the challenge of any major disease outbreak. 

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How economic liberalisation has damaged the government’s capacity?

  • In India, economic liberalisation has damaged the government’s capacity in two ways. 

Firstly,

  • It incapacitated the government to respond to emergencies based on credible information. 
  • The dismantling of the ‘Licence Raj’ resulted in the elimination of channels of information for the government, which is crucial to make informed policy choices. 
  • For instance, as part of the removal of ‘Licence Raj’, the government stopped asking for information from the manufacturer to file the quantity of production of various medicines. 
  • As a result, it has taken weeks now and a series of meetings for the government to gather information about stocks and the production capacity of pharmaceutical companies. 
  • Similarly, there were difficulties in finding out India’s production capacity of PPE, medical devices and diagnostics.
  • The only government data available in the public domain is with regard to the production of vaccines. 

Secondly, 

  • The logic and policies of economic liberalisation seriously undermined the manufacturing capabilities of health products in India. 
  • The short-sighted policy measures, with the objective of enhancing profitability of the private sector, allowed the import of raw materials from the cheapest sources and resulted in the debasing of the API industry, especially in essential medicine. 
  • According to a report of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), nearly 70% of India’s API import is from China. 
  • The CII report lists nearly 58 API where the dependence is 90% to 100%. 
  • The disruption in the supply of API due to the COVID-19 outbreak has impacted the production of not only medicines required for COVID-19 patients, but also of other essential medicines in India. 
  • As a cost-effective producer of medicines, the world is looking to India for supply, but it cannot deliver due to its dependence on China, which has also forced India to impose export restrictions on select medicines. 

The dangers of dependency:

  • Similar dependence exists with regard to PPE, medical devices and diagnostic kits. The 100% dependence on Reagents, an important chemical component for testing, is limiting the capacity of the government from expanding testing because the cost of each test is ₹4,500. 
  • A population of 1.33 billion requires a large number of tests. Dependence on imports affects the ability of Indian diagnostic companies to provide an affordable test for all those who want to test for COVID-19. 
  • There are only a few domestic manufacturers who can produce PPE and medical devices like ventilators. Now the country is not able to get required quantities of test kits, PPE and parts of ventilators through importation. 
  • In the name of economic efficiency, India allowed unconditional imports of these products and never took note of the dangers of dependency. 

Global supply/productionchains:

  • Global supply/production chains not only destroyed the manufacturing base in developed and developing countries; they also resulted in loss of jobs and poor working conditions in these sectors.
  • Developing countries were asked to ease their labour protection laws to facilitate global production and supply chains popularly known as global value chains. 
  • As a result, people were forced to work in precarious working conditions without any social security net. 
  • This created an unorganised army of labourers and is preventing many developing country governments from effectively offering relief. 

Conclusion:

  • A virus has made us rethink our obsession with the economic efficiency theory. 
  • It implores us to put in place an industrial policy to maintain core capacity in health products so that we can face the next crisis more decisively.

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