• Current Affairs, 16 April 2020



    • Past pandemics: Clerks at work at an office in New York during the Spanish Flu of 1918.NYTNATIONAL ARCHIVES
    • Pandemics have had great influence in shaping human society and politics throughout history. From the Justinian Plague of sixth century to the Spanish flu of last century, pandemics have triggered the collapse of empires, weakened pre-eminent institutions, created social upheavals and brought down wars. Here’s a look at some of the deadliest pandemics and how they influenced the course of human history.
    • Justinian Plague
    • One of the deadliest pandemics in recorded history broke out in the sixth century in Egypt and spread fast to Constantinople, which was the capital of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire. The plague was named after the then Byzantine Emperor Justinian. The outbreak, which spread from Constantinople to both the West and East, had killed up to 25 to 100 million people. The plague hit Constantinople when the Byzantine Empire was at the pinnacle of its power under Justinian’s reign. The Empire had conquered much of the historically Roman Mediterranean coast, including Italy, Rome and North Africa.
    • The plague would come back in different waves, finally disappearing in AD 750, after weakening the empire substantially. As the Byzantine Army failed to recruit new soldiers and ensure military supplies to battlegrounds in the wake of the spread of the illness, their provinces came under attack. By the time plague disappeared, the Empire had lost territories in Europe to the Germanic-speaking Franks and Egypt and Syria to the Arabs.
    • Black Death
    • The Black Death, or pestilence, that hit Europe and Asia in the14th century was the deadliest pandemic recorded in human history. It killed some 75 to 200 million people. The plague arrived in Europe in 1347, where up to 50% of the population died of the disease.
    • In the words of Stanford historian Walter Scheidel, pandemics are one of the “four horsemen” that have flattened inequality. The other three are wars, revolutions and state failures. In his book, The Great Leveller”, Mr. Scheidel writes how the Black Death led to improved wages for serfs and agricultural labourers. “Land became more abundant relative to labour [after the death of millions of working people]. Landowners stood to lose, and workers could hope to gain,” he writes. In parts of Europe, wages tripled as labour demand rose.
    • The most significant impact of the Black Death was perhaps the weakening of the Catholic Church. The Church was as helpless as any other institutions as the plague spread like wildfire across the continent, which shook the people’s faith in Church and the clergy. While Church would continue to remain as a powerful institution, it would never regain the power and influence it had enjoyed before the outbreak of the plague. The Protestant Reformation in the 16th century would further weaken the Church.
    • Spanish Flu
    • Spanish Flu, which broke out during the last phase of First World War, was the deadliest pandemic of the last century that killed up to 50 million people.
    • One of the major impacts of the outbreak was on the result of the war. Though the flu hit both sides, the Germans and Austrians were affected so badly that the outbreak derailed their offensives. German General Erich Ludendorff in his memoir, My War Memories, 1914-18, wrote that the flu was one of the reasons for Germany’s defeat. Germany launched its Spring Offensive on the western front in March 1918. By June and July, the disease had weakened the German units. The Armistice was signed on November 11, 1918 that ended the War. But the flu continues to ravage parts of the world for many more months.




    • Over 10 crore people have been excluded from the Public Distribution System because outdated 2011 census data is being used to calculate State-wise National Food Security Act (NFSA) coverage, according to economists Jean Dreze and Reetika Khera.
    • The disastrous impact of this gap is being seen in the middle of a crippling lockdown, as people who have lost their livelihoods depend on PDS for daily survival.
    • Under the NFSA, the PDS is supposed to cover 75% of the population in rural areas and 50% of the population in urban areas, which works out to 67% of the total population, using the rural-urban population ratio in 2011. India’s population was about 121 crore in 2011 and so PDS covered approximately 80 crore people.
    • However, applying the 67% ratio to a projected population of 137 crore for 2020, PDS coverage today should be around 92 crore. Even taking into account growing urbanisation, the shortfall would be around 10 crore people who have slipped through the cracks, said the two economists and Right to Food campaigners in a statement on Wednesday.
    • Big gaps
    • The biggest gaps are in Uttar Pradesh, where 2.8 crore people may have been left out, and Bihar, which would have had almost 1.8 crore people excluded from the NFSA. State-specific birth and death rates from 2016 were used to calculate the population growth rate and projected population estimates, said the statement.
    • When the NFSA came into effect in 2013, State-wise ratios were worked out for rural and urban areas, using National Sample Survey data, in such a manner that everyone below a given national “per-capita expenditure benchmark” is covered, meaning that PDS coverage should be higher in poorer States.
    • While the population data from the 2011 census was used to translate these ratios into absolute numbers, Right to Food activists have long argued that the numbers should have been updated using projected population figures, allowing State governments to issue new ration cards over time. Instead, the Centre’s calculation of the actual number of people to be covered in each State has remained “frozen.”
    • Many State governments are reluctant to issue new ration cards beyond the numbers that will be provided for by the Central quota, making it difficult to reduce exclusion errors in the PDS.
    • For example, there are about seven lakh pending applications for ration cards in Jharkhand, because the State government stopped issuing new ration cards several years ago to avoid exceeding the numbers provided for by the Central government, said Dr. Khera and Dr. Dreze.
    • With the 2021 census process being delayed due to the COVID-19 crisis, any proposed revision of PDS coverage using that data could now take several years.




    • India on Wednesday refused to criticise the United States defunding of the World Health Organisation (WHO), saying that it was currently occupied with the domestic campaign to defeat the COVID-19 pandemic.
    • A source indicated that India was not inclined to immediately join the controversy that erupted after the President Donald Trump declared a “halt” to American funding of the WHO.
    • “At present, our efforts and attention are fully focused on dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Once the world has addressed this crisis, we can revisit this question,” said a source familiar with India’s official decision- making on international organisations.
    • Trump on Tuesday suspended his government’s funding of the multilateral body accusing it of “severe” mismanagement of the COVID-19 epidemic.
    • President’s charge
    • He accused the WHO of opposing travel restrictions to China which he termed “disastrous”.
    • “Today, I am instructing my administration to hold the funding of the World Heath Organisation while a review is conducted to assess the WHO’s role in severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus… As the organisation’s leading sponsor, the United States has a duty to insist on full accountability,” the U.S. President said at the White House.
    • The WHO’s latest documents show that the United States is its top contributor with around $58 million and halting that payment is expected to hit many health initiatives across the world, including in India.
    • Contrary to India’s stand, the European Union’s top foreign policy representative Josep Borrell Fontelles has “deeply” regretted the U.S. decision, saying, “There is no reason justifying this move at a moment when their efforts are needed more than ever to help contain and mitigate the Coronavirus pandemic.”
    • Bill Gates’s stand
    • Microsoft founder Bill Gates too sounded a note of caution, saying “no other organisation can replace” the WHO.
    • Since March, India has taken the initiative to several countries in the region and beyond by supplying protective equipment and medicines.
    • According to the WHO’s March 31, 2020 assessment, India committed around $2 million, whereas China committed approximately $28.7 million.
    • Budget contributions
    • The WHO’s budget is funded by a mix of assessed and voluntary contributions. Assessed contributions mainly refer to financial support from the member-countries of the world body, which is relative to the member- state’s wealth and population.
    • The WHO claims that contributions from the member-states had declined over the years and now accounts for less than one quarter of its programme financing. The rest of the resources, it says, is raised through voluntary donation.
    • The major European economies are among the bigger contributors to the organisation.





    • At a time when the World Health Organisation has been seeking at least $675 million additional funding for critical response efforts in countries most in need during the pandemic, U.S. President Trump has done the unthinkable — halting funding to WHOwhile a review is conducted to assess its “role in severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of coronavirus” and for “failing to adequately obtain, vet, and share information in a timely and transparent fashion”. The decision comes a week after he first threatened to put funding on hold for the global health body. At over $500 million, the U.S. is WHO’s biggest contributor; America is also the worst-affected country — over 0.6 million cases and nearly 26,000 deaths. But halting funding at a crucial time will not only impact the functioning of the global body but also hurt humanity. Many low and middle-income countries that look up to WHO for guidance and advice, and even for essentials such as testing kits and masks, will be badly hit for no fault of theirs. With a little over two million cases and over 1,27,000 deaths globally, the pandemic has been unprecedented in scale. When solidarity and unmitigated support from every member-state is necessary to win the war against the virus, withholding funding will not be in the best interest of any country, the U.S. included. Failures due to oversight or other reasons, by WHO or member-states can always be looked into but not in the midst of a pandemic.
    • Coronavirus | Opeds and editorials
    • Contrary to what Mr. Trump claims, WHO cannot independently investigate but can only rely on individual member-states to share information. There has not been one instance when it has been found “covering up” the epidemic in China. Rather, it has been continuously urging countries to aggressively test people exhibiting symptoms and trace, quarantine and test contacts to contain the spread. It repeatedly spoke of the window of opportunity, and once warned that it is narrowing. Historically, WHO has been against travel and trade restrictions against countries experiencing outbreaks, and its position was no different when, in January, it declared COVID-19 a public health emergency of international concern. But it did support China’s large-scale mitigation measures to contain the virus spread. Faulting WHO for imaginary failings cannot help Mr. Trump wash his hands of many administrative failures in containing the epidemic. He has been blaming everyone else for his shortcomings in dealing with COVID-19. But moving beyond blaming and actually withholding WHO funding can have disastrous outcomes. If indeed he fervently believes that the U.S. has been misled, it is China that he must hold responsible for a delayed alert. Previously, he praised both China and WHO. Obviously, the change in line is linked to a desperate bid to hide his own failures.




    • Amid the gloom of the daily assault on our society by the coronavirusand the lockdown against it, one silver lining along our collective clouds has been impossible to miss — the bright blue skies and cleaner air.
    • The national capital region — which, on average, sees most of the days in a year in the poor to severe category on the national Air Quality Index — has witnessed something akin to a miracle. With the lockdown in effect, and construction, industrial and vehicular activity down to a crawl, the capital has been experiencing record levels of clean air.
    • Barring a single day on April 5, when a few overzealous supporters of the prime minister chose to take the latter’s call to light lamps in support of our critical service providers to the next level — by bursting firecrackers — the AQI levels in the city have dropped to scarcely believable levels. It has been refreshing to see the AQI below 30 on most days.
    • Health crisis has cleaned up air, now global community’s duty to carry that forward
    • Even prior to the lockdown, during the single-day “Janata” on March 21, the gains Delhiites received were immense: Reportedly, the Central Board of Pollution Control pointed out that it registered whopping reductions in PM 10 levels (-44 per cent), PM2.5 (-34 per cent) and Nitrogen Oxide (-51 per cent). The following week, with the lockdown, saw a 71 per cent plunge in all these indicators.
    • It’s not just Delhi that is breathing easier. A recent (and surprisingly fact-based) gem that was doing the rounds on WhatsApp revealed that thanks to clear skies, you could now, for the first time, view the foothills of the Himalayas in neighbouring Himachal from Jalandhar in Punjab.
    • The clean air that has replaced the smog in some of our most polluted regions is not just a glimpse of an experience that most Indians have almost forgotten existed. There is a more serious reason why this is worth paying attention to.
    • Initial research by Harvard’s T H Chan School of Public Health has suggested that there could be a correlation between air pollution and the lethality of COVID-19. Through their findings, based on data from nearly 3,000 counties in the US, the researchers have pointed out that a marginal increase in long-term exposure to PM2.5 could contribute to a higher fatality rate among those affected with coronavirus. The study showed that counties that registered on average as little as one microgram per cubic metre of PM2.5 more than their counterparts had a COVID fatality rate that was 15 per cent higher.
    • Explained: Air pollution’s insidious link to the coronavirus pandemic
    • A similar study in Italy by scientists from Denmark’s Aarhus University pointed out that regions in the northern part of that country, which faced high levels of air pollution, also registered the highest number of coronavirus-related deaths (12 per cent versus 4.5 per cent in the southern part). This trajectory mirrors a 2003 study by the University of California which found that the impact of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in China was more fatal in parts of the country that suffered from poor air quality.
    • This should be a matter of concern for all of us who live in regions where the air quality has perennially remained poor. Severe exposure to foul air inevitably means that most of us have gradually developed weaker respiratory systems and other conditions that would make us even more vulnerable to a virus like COVID-19.
    • India’s situation is horrific in this regard. A study conducted by the Kolkata-based Chittaranjan National CancerInstitute (CNCI) found that the key indicators of respiratory health and lung function of school children in Delhi between four and 17 years of age were markedly worse than their counterparts elsewhere. Indeed, the figures were twice to four times as bad for children in Delhi than in other places, and were not reversible.
    • I remain confident that as a country we will collectively pull through our current crisis. Eventually, the lockdown too will be lifted, and we will have to kickstart the economy. We cannot realistically expect to continue to hold back our economic activity the way we are doing right now. Livelihoods matter almost as much as lives.
    • Opinion | India is not making full use of its digital capabilities to track COVID-19 cases
    • But we should seize the opportunity to try and find a way to drive the economy forward without once again driving our air pollution levels through the roof. Renewable energy is part of the answer, and there are other steps the government must take. As a concerned MP who has convened multiple high-level and cross-sectoral stakeholder gatherings to find solutions to our crisis of poor air, and as an Indian politician representing lakhs of people, I’ve been concerned at how little traction my efforts received. There is no doubt that neither public health, generally, nor air pollution, specifically, has yet won or lost an election for any Indian politician.
    • That must change. We must not lapse into inaction when the lockdown is lifted and the silent killer of poor air quality resurfaces. In a country as diverse and stratified as ours, the crises that we are required to address daily are many: Often, some will have to take priority over others. But ultimately we must recognise that toxic air affects us all, no matter which part of the country we come from, what political and ideological affiliations we may have, or what socio-economic class we find ourselves in.
    • The COVID crisis has prompted many of us to vow to fight for greater emphasis on public health in our country, which currently devotes only a woeful 1.28 per cent of GDP to keeping Indians healthy. Not only does this not undermine our need to grow the economy, it is essential to strengthen our economy instead. Because the engine of growth is the Indian workforce, and an unhealthy and vulnerable workforce will not generate the growth we need. Let’s defeat COVID, and let’s also make cleaner air an indispensable part of our defence against the next deadly contagion.




    • China is scripting the emerging economic story of coronavirusand knows the untold story of the COVID pandemic. As the World Health Organisation (WHO) finds itself in the eye of pandemic politics, power and pelf are competing with patients and poverty. The best that WHO’s Ethiopian head Tedros Adhanon Ghebreyesus can come up with as thousands are dying is to say leaders should not politicise the issue. It is an open secret that politics and arm twisting, not merit, got him his job.
    • Tedros was his country’s Minister of Health (2005—2012) and Minister of Foreign Affairs (2012 to 2016). In 2017, China catapulted him to lead the WHO as its Director General (DG) with India, the world’s largest democracy, playing second fiddle. We will never know who gamed India inside and abroad, but tough questions must be asked.
    • Between ordering 10,000 ventilators from China and firefighting a diplomatic war against Beijing’s ceaseless incursions into India’s territorial rights on land and at the United Nations (UN), the pandemic is a wake-up call for New Delhi.
    • Public health is a rights-driven developmental track for any country, especially for India. Shouldn’t the ministries of foreign, trade, information and broadcasting, home, finance, women and child development, law, infrastructure and industry, among others, be part of the country’s health equation and decision-making on a daily basis? Should the WHO be sitting in on high-level health ministry discussions given what we now know about its allegiance to all things Chinese?
    • Editorial | No other agency can match WHO for reach and credibility. It can be questioned, must not be undermined
    • China, an economic and military behemoth, now seeks the same powerin public health. India, with its double burden of disease and an uncritical alignment with the WHO, is fertile ground for data and dollars. As it fights the Dharavi spread in Mumbai with rapid and mass testing — and the WHO watches closely — the battle will be won by India and India alone.
    • For now, India, like most countries, is at China’s mercy thanks in large part to years of short-sightedness and corruption in the health sector. While it is hailed as the pharmacy of the world and has sent drugs as humanitarian assistance, India relies heavily on raw materials from China. Quick thinking and swift action can reverse this.
    • Says Dinesh Thakur, the man who blew the whistle on Ranbaxy: “India’s chemists are aggressively courted, relocated to Chinese cities for their know-how on how to chemically synthesise bulk drugs. Our generic pharmaceutical industry cannot make what patients need until they secure bulk-drug from China for many life-saving drugs.”
    • In an unusual public display of anger, Tedros said criticism of his handling of the situation was wrong and said he had been called names, including “Negro”. In another outburst, he warned of increased bodybags in a direct reference to criticism from the US. Tedros’s African origin was his overarching campaign profile and the world genuinely applauded an African head for the WHO. Western democracies knew who and what Tedros was but they underestimated their own economic and public health dependence on China. By using the “N” word now, Tedros and China have upped the ante.
    • Geneva, where the WHO is headquartered, is a small city that leaks like a sieve. In fact, during Tedros’s campaign, WHO officials kept rivals informed of all activities and some were exposed in emails that leaked. Traders, not public health officials, do that. The trading tradition continues. The WHO, and by extension China, has a roster of friendly journalists/moderators/commentators and civil society groups who are now speaking to script.
    • Explained: How much does WHO get from US, India?
    • The propaganda team’s job is focused on blaming US President Donald Trump for contemplating cutting off funding for the WHO and not Tedros, for taking orders from China about the pandemic. The war is not between an American President (with a dismal record on public health in his country) and Tedros. It is between Tedros, a global public health head, and his subservience to China. That ship of trust, the cornerstone of public health work that the WHO should have been leading, has long set sail.
    • Media reports from London and New York follow the party line. Protecting Tedros is important as the WHO needs money to help poor countries with weak health systems. Gaping holes in health systems in the United Kingdom (UK) and the US that COVID-19has shown can wait — poor Indians make better copy. That, unfortunately, is the level of cynicism.
    • Tedros’s attitude towards human rights is as problematic as his silence about China. In 2013, The Guardian asked why UK taxpayers’ money was funding paramilitary forces in Ethiopiathat stood “accused of numerous human rights abuses and summary executions”. The newspaper sourced the information to an internal UK Department of International Development (DfID) document. The agency responded saying its goal was to “improve security, professionalism and accountability” and training would be outsourced. Tedros was Minister for Foreign Affairs at the time.
    • War chests are being mobilised to help the WHO help China disburse aid and assistance to dying people and gasping economies. The recent announcement by the World Bank to fast track $1.9 billion for health systems to respond to Covid also includes Ethiopia. For the first time in its history, the WHO has opened its doors to private funding via a Solidarity fund and China is expected to keep an eye on this. Who will keep track of how the money is spent?
    • The WHO was founded in 1948. India was a founding member of its parent body, the UN, in 1945. New Delhi must decide if it wants to blindly follow the blind or lead by bringing the WHO back to its original promise. At stake is the country’s economic security of which public health is a key component. India can either be a part of history or pick up the pen even in these times of distress and rewrite it.




    • India has disbursed $3.9 billion as financial assistance to more than 320 million people, within a couple of weeks, with a special focus on direct benefittransfer so that the exposure of beneficiaries to public places is minimised, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman
    • Monetary policy measures taken by the government, the Reserve Bank of India and other regulators have helped de-freeze the market and catalyse credit flows, the minister said, while addressing finance ministers and central bank governors of the G20 on the global economic outlook amid evolving COVID-19 pandemic crisis.
    • “India is now reaping benefits of the farsighted measures of financial inclusion which are part of the pioneering reforms carried out by our Prime Minister,” Sitharaman said, while giving details of the measures taken to provide the vulnerable sections with swift, timely and targeted assistance.
    • She added that measures included liquidity support of $50 billion, regulatory and supervisory measures for credit easing, relief on debt servicing through moratoriums on instalments of term-loans, eased working capital financing and deferred interest payments on such financing.
    • An Action Plan has been prepared by G20 members on the directions of G20 Leaders to protect lives, safeguard people’s jobs and incomes, restore confidence, preserve financial stability, revive growth and recover stronger, provide help to countries needing assistance , coordinate on public health and financial measures and minimise disruption to global supply chain.
    • India has disbursed $3.9 billion as financial assistance to more than 320 million people, within a couple of weeks, with a special focus on direct benefittransfer so that the exposure of beneficiaries to public places is minimised, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman





    The United States (US) has decided to cut off US payments to the World Health Organisation (WHO) during the Covid-19 pandemic.

    Important Points

    • Reasons:The US has accused WHO for failing to curb the early spread of the coronavirus.
    • It has been claimed by the US that the outbreak could have been contained at its sourceand lives could have been saved if the United Nations (UN) health agency (i.e. WHO) has done a better job.
    • The US has criticised the WHO for being China-centricand has alleged that earlier WHO had criticized US’s ban on travel from and to China.
    • This comes when the global case load approaches 2 million,including over 1 lakh deaths. The US has seen the most cases (over 6 lakh) and deaths (over 26,000) despite being the highest contributor (almost 15%) to the WHO.
    • However, the US has made it clear that it would continue to engage with the WHO in pursuit of meaningful reforms.
    • Other Criticisms:Most countries closed down air travel at the first stage but the WHO took a stand against travel and trade restrictions on China.
    • The International Health RegulationsEmergency Committee urged countries to be prepared, but did not recommend any travel or trade restriction.
    • According to the National Centre for Disease Control, WHO officials rejected Indian concerns saying that there was no human to human transmission.
    • Impact:For the WHO, the loss of about 15% of its total funding is bound to have an impact the world over.
    • However, unless other countries do the same as the US, the move may not severely hamper WHO operations.
    • Criticism of US Stand:The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has held that WHO is absolutely critical in the global fight to combat Covid-19 and this is not the time to end support and reduce resources for the operations.
    • India’s Stand: Indiahas reacted cautiously to this announcement, avoiding an official response and maintaining the country’s focus now is containment and management of the outbreak.

    Source of WHO’s Funds

    • It is fundedby countries, philanthropic organisations, other UN organisations
    • Voluntary donationsfrom member states contribute 35.41%, assessed contributions are 15.66%, philanthropic organisations account for 9.33%, UN organisations contribute about 8.1% and the rest comes from myriad sources.
    • The US contributes almost 15%of the WHO’s total funding and almost 31% of the member states’ donations, the largest chunk in both cases.
    • India contributes 1% of member states’ donations.
    • Countriesdecide how much they pay and may also choose not to.

    Spending of WHO’s Funds

    • The WHO isinvolved in various programmes.
    • In 2018-19, 19.36% (about $1 bn) was spent on polioeradication,77% on increasing access to essential health and nutrition services, 7% on vaccine preventable diseases and about 4.36% on prevention and control of outbreaks.
    • The American continentreceived $62.2 mn for WHO projects. That is where most of WHO funding comes from and the least of it goes.
    • The African countriesreceived $1.6 bn for WHO projects and South East Asian countries (including India) received $375 mn.
    • India is a member state of the WHO South East Asia Region.

    Spending Priorities of WHO

    • The annual programme of workis passed by WHO’s decision-making body, the World Health Assembly.
    • It is held annually in Geneva.
    • It is attended by delegates from all member statesand focuses on a specific health agenda prepared by the Executive Board.
    • Functions:To determine WHO policies, appoint the Director-General, supervise financial policies, and review and approve the proposed programme budget.
    • The decision on which country gets how much depends on the situation in the countries.
    • The WHO’s 13thGeneral Programme of Work (2019-23) lays down: “Unequal development in different countries in the promotion of health and control of diseases, especially communicable diseases, is a common danger.”

    WHO’s Involvement in India

    • Indiabecame a party to the WHO Constitution on 12th January, 1948 and the first session of the WHO Regional Committee for South-East Asia was held on 4th-5th October 1948, in
    • The WHO India Country Cooperation Strategy (CCS) 2019-2023has been developed jointly by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) and the WHO India country office.
    • The CCS’s strategic prioritiesare to accelerate progress on Universal Health Coverage, promote health and wellness by addressing determinants of health, better protect the population against health emergencies and enhance India’s global leadership in health.
    • On the ground, WHO has been a key partner in the immunisation programme (Mission Indradhanush), tackling Tuberculosis (TB)and neglected diseases such as leprosy and kala azar and nutrition programmes across states.

    WHO and India During Covid-19

    • WHO has been working closely with the MoHFW and various state governments on preparedness and response measures for Covid-19,including surveillance and contact tracing; laboratory and research protocols; risk communications; hospital preparedness; training on infection prevention and control and cluster containment plan.
    • However, India has largely built its own strategycovering its reluctance to test, the early travel restrictions to and from China and the lockdown.
    • India imposed a lockdownwhen cases were just 341 (on 22nd March 2020).
    • India showed resistance to mass testingwhich is akin to the US’s strategy.
    • India has also taken a call on universal use of maskswhen the WHO maintained that masks protect others rather than the wearer and need not be mandatory.



    The rupee slipped 17 paise against the dollar on 15th April, 2020, amid heightened uncertainty over the economy as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to spread.

    Important Points

    • The rupee closed at a record low of 76.44 against the dollar on 15thApril, 2020. Rupee was 76.27 against dollar on the previous day.
    • However, the dollar indexwas trading 0.3% higher at 99.19. The U.S. Dollar Index (USDX) is an index (or measure) of the value of the United States dollar relative to a basket of foreign currencies.
    • It can be noted that the rupee has weakened about 7% against the dollar in 2020and has hit a record intraday low of 76.55.
    • This implies that the rupee has become less valuable with respect to the dollar, implying depreciationof the rupee.
    • According to some experts, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI)has not intervened strongly in the market to stop rupee depreciation.
    • They expect the RBI to intervene once the rupee breaches the 77 to a dollar.
    • In its macroeconomic review , RBI had said if the rupee depreciates 5% from the baseline (i.e. Rs 75 per dollar), inflation could rise by 20 basis points (bps) while the Gross Domestic Product (GDP)growth could be higher by about 15 bps via increased net exports.

    Currency Depreciation

    • Currency depreciation is a fall in the value of a currency in a floating exchange rate system.
    • In a floating exchange rate system, market forces (based on demand and supply of a currency) determine the value of a currency.
    • Rupee depreciation means that rupee has become less valuable with respect to dollar.
    • It means that the rupee is now weaker than what it used to be earlier.
    • For example: $1 used to equal to Rs.70, now $1 is equal to Rs. 76, implying that the rupee has depreciated relative to the dollar i.e. it takes more rupees to purchase a dollar.

    Some of the factors that influence the value of a currency:

    • Inflation
    • Interest rates
    • Trade deficit
    • Macroeconomic policies
    • Equity market.
    • Currency depreciation increases a country’s export activity as its products and services become cheaper to buy.
    • The Reserve Bank of India intervenes in the currency market to support the rupee as a weak domestic unit can increase a country’s import bill.
    • There are a variety of methods by which RBI intervenes:
    • It can intervene directly in the currency market by buying and selling dollars.
    • If the RBI wishes to increase the rupee value, then it can sell dollars and when it needs to bring down rupee value, it can buy dollars.
    • The central bank can also influence the value of rupee by the way of monetary policy.
    • RBI can adjust the repo rate (the rate at which RBI lends to banks) and the liquidity ratio (the portion of money banks are required to invest in government bonds) to control rupee.



    Recently, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) has observed that India will likely have a normal monsoon, with a chance of above normal rain in August and September, 2020.

    Important Points

    • Every year,the IMD issues a two-stage forecast.
    • The first one in Apriland the second one in the last week of May, which is a more detailed forecast and also illustrates how the monsoon will spread over the country.
    • Forecast
    • The June-September rainfallaccounts for 75% of the country’s annual rainfall.
    • Quantitatively, the monsoon seasonal rainfall is likely to be 100% of the Long Period Average(LPA) with a model error of ± 5%.
    • The LPA of the season rainfall over the country as a whole for the period 1961-2010 is 88 cm. IMD has officially redefined the definition of ‘normal’ rainfall and reduced it by 1 cm to 88 cms.
    • TheIndian Ocean Dipole, a temperature anomaly in the ocean that can increase monsoon rain, is also expected to be in a “neutral” state during the monsoon.
    • According to the statistical model, there is a 41% forecast probability of a normal monsoon.
    • The expectation of excess rain comes from a forecast by the dynamical model,according to which, there is a high probability (70%) for the rainfall to be above normal to excess.
    • Comparison to 2019 Forecast
    • In April, 2019, the IMD said that the monsoon would be near normalor a slightly below normal.
    • However,India ended up with excess rainfall, or the maximum rainfall in a quarter century, largely owing to torrential rain in August and September from the unusual warming in the Indian Ocean.

    Models for Forecasting

    • Dynamical Model:It is also called the Monsoon Mission Coupled Forecast System. It relies on the supercomputers, mathematically simulating the physics of the ocean and the atmosphere.
    • This model is better at forecasting the state of the weather a week or two in advance and is not yet considered reliable by meteorologists in forecasting the monsoon.
    • Statistical Model:It takes into consideration the global weather models pointing to negligible chances of El Nino, a warming of the central equatorial Pacific which is associated with the drying up of monsoon rain. The IMD relies on this model.
    • In any given year,there is a 33% chance of a normal monsoon that’s why there is high confidence that the monsoon in 2020 would be normal.



    Recently, prominent economists Amartya Sen, Raghuram Rajan and Abhijit Banerjee have raised concerns and also suggested measures to deal with economic hardships created by the Covid-19 lockdown.

    Important Points

    • Risk of Defiance of Lockdown Orders:In the scenario of extended lockdown, a huge number of people will be pushed into dire poverty or even starvation by the combination of the loss of their livelihoods and interruptions in the standard delivery mechanisms.
    • This opens up the risk of large-scale defiance of lockdown orders.
    • Reassurance to People:The government needs to reassure people that it does care and their minimum well-being will be secure. Moreover, the government has the resources to do this.
    • The stocks of food at the Food Corporation of Indiastood at 77 million tons in March 2020, more than three times the “buffer stock norms”. This is also likely to grow over the next few weeks as the Rabi crop comes in.
    • Extend PDS Beyond 3 Months:Although the government has offered a supplementary Public Distribution System (PDS) provision of 5 kg/person/month for the coming three months. However, it is likely that three months will not be enough, since even if the lockdown ends soon, the process of reopening the economy will take time.
    • Multidimensional Challenges:The starvation is just one of the worries, the unexpected loss of income and savings can have serious consequences. E.g.
    • Farmers need money to buy seeds and fertilizer for the next planting season.
    • Shopkeepers need to fill their shelves again.
    • Many others have to repay the loan that is already due.
    • Improvement Needed:The government has partly recognized this in the cash transfers it has promised to certain groups under Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Package but the amounts are both small and narrowly targeted.

    Food Corporation of India (FCI)

    • FCI is a Public Sector Undertaking, under the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution.
    • It was established as a statutory body in 1965 under the Food Corporations Act 1964. It was established against the backdrop of a major shortage of grains, especially wheat.

    Public distribution system (PDS)

    • The PDS is an Indian food Security System established under the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution.
    • PDS evolved as a system of management of scarcity through distribution of food grains at affordable prices.
    • PDS is operated under the joint responsibility of the Central and the State Governments.
    • The Central Government, through Food Corporation of India (FCI), has assumed the responsibility for procurement, storage, transportation and bulk allocation of food grains to the State Governments.
    • The operational responsibilities including allocation within the State, identification of eligible families, issue of Ration Cards and supervision of the functioning of Fair Price Shops (FPSs) etc., rest with the State Governments.
    • Under the PDS, presently the commodities namely wheat, rice, sugar and kerosene are being allocated to the States/UTs for distribution. Some States/UTs also distribute additional items of mass consumption through the PDS outlets such as pulses, edible oils, iodized salt, spices, etc.

    Issues Involved

    • Exclusionary PDS:A substantial fraction (over 10 crore) of the poor are excluded from the PDS rolls, for one reason or another (such as identification barriers to get a ration card), and the supplementary provision (of 5 kg/person/month for the coming three months) only applies to those who are already on it.
    • Reliance on Outdated Data:The exclusion in the Public Distribution System is because of outdated 2011 census data being used to calculate State-wise National Food Security Act (NFSA) coverage.
    • Under the NFSA, the PDS is supposed to cover 75% of the population in rural areas and 50% of the population in urban areas, which works out to 67% of the total population,using the rural-urban population ratio in 2011.
    • India’s population was about 121 crore in 2011 and so PDS covered approximately 80 crore people. However, applying the 67% ratio to a projected population of 137 crore for 2020, PDS coverage today should be around 92 crore.
    • Issue of Pending Applications:Many State governments are reluctant to issue new ration cards beyond the numbers that will be provided for by the Central quota.
    • For example, there are about seven lakh pending applications for ration cards in Jharkhand, because the State government stopped issuing new ration cards several years ago to avoid exceeding the numbers provided for by the Central government.

    Way Forward

    • Giving away some of the existing stock,at a time of emergency created by Covid-19 would make perfect sense and it should not be portrayed as costly.
    • The government should use every meansat its disposal to make sure that no one is starving. This includes:
    • Expandingthe PDS.
    • Setting up public canteens for migrantsand others who are away from home.
    • Sending the equivalent of the school meal to the homesof the children who are now stuck at home (as kerala is already doing).
    • Making use of reputed local NGOs that often have a reach among the most marginalized that exceeds that of the government.
    • Sending 5000 rupees to the Jan Dhan accountsof the identified poor households. The poors can be identified by the idea of using the MGNREGA rolls from 2019, plus those covered by Jan Arogya and Ujjwala Yojana.
    • Issuing temporary ration cards —perhaps for six months — with minimal checks to everyone who wants ration cards.



    • The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC)has asked the Centre to issue an advisory to all States and Union Territories to implement the ongoing lockdown without violating the human rights of the public.
    • Previously, the NHRC has also asked the Ministry of Home Affairs to address the concerns of the mentally ill people on the streets during the lockdown to check the spread of the novel coronavirus.

    Important Points

    • In order to effectively implement the lock down guidelines, the public servants, sometimes under tremendous pressure, tend to deal with the people, especially the ill-informed poor labourers, in a very harsh manner undermining their rights.
    • The NHRC through an advisory wants to ensure that the public servants behave in a sensible manner with the people, particularly belonging to vulnerable sections, respecting human rights relating to their life, liberty and dignity.
    • It has said that In the meantime necessary directions may be issued by the Ministry to all the States and Union Territories, to ensure that persons suffering from any kind of mental ailments under their jurisdiction are provided with proper counselling towards necessary precautions for their personal care and protection from the virus and not deprived of basic amenities like food, shelter and medical care etc.

    National Human Rights Commission

    • Statutory Body:NHRC was established on 12th October, 1993. The statute under which it is established is the Protection of Human Rights Act (PHRA), 1993 as amended by the Protection of Human Rights (Amendment) Act, 2006.
      • The PHRA Act also provides for the creation of a State Human Rights Commission at the state level.
    • In Line with Paris Principles: Paris Principleswere adopted for the promotion and protection of human rights in October 1991, and were endorsed by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1993.
    • Watchdog of Human Rights in the country:The NHRC is an embodiment of India’s concern for the promotion and protection of human rights.
      • Section 2(1)(d) of the PHRA defines Human Rightsas the rights relating tolife, liberty, equality and dignity of the individual guaranteed by the Constitution or embodied in the International Covenants and enforceable by courts in India.
    • Composition:The commission is a multi-member body consisting of a chairman and four members. A person who has been the Chief Justice of India or a judge of the Supreme Court is a
    • Appointment:The chairman and members are appointed by the President on the recommendations of a six-member committee consisting of the Prime Minister as its head, the Speaker of the Lok Sabha, the Deputy Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, leaders of the Opposition in both the Houses of Parliament and the Union Home Minister.
    • Tenure:The chairman and members hold office for a term of three years or until they attain the age of 70 years, whichever is earlier.
      • The President can remove the chairman or any memberfrom the office under some circumstances.
    • Role and Function
      • It has all thepowers of a civil courtand its proceedings have a judicial character.
      • It is empowered to utilise the services of any officer or investigation agencyof the Central government or any state government for the purpose of investigating complaints of human rights violation.
      • It can look into a matter within one year of its occurrence,e the Commission is not empowered to inquire into any matter after the expiry of one year from the date on which the act constituting violation of human rights is alleged to have been committed.
      • The functions of the commission are mainly recommendatory in nature.It has no power to punish the violators of human rights, nor to award any relief including monetary relief to the victim. Its recommendations are not binding on the concerned government or authority.But, it should be informed about the action taken on its recommendations within one month.
      • It haslimited role,powers and jurisdiction with respect to the violation of human rights by the members of the armed forces.
      • It isnot empowered to act when human rights violations through private parties take place.



    According to the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA), around 11,077 under trials have been released from prisons nationwide as part of the mission to decongest jails following the Covid-19 pandemic.

    Important Points

    • NALSA has been providing assistance to prisoners who are eligible to be released on parole or interim bailunder the relaxed norms, through its panel of lawyers.
    • The Supreme Court has ordered all States and Union Territories to set up high-level panelswhich would consider releasing all convicts who have been jailed for upto seven years on parole to decongest jails in an attempt to contain the Covid-19 outbreak.
    • The Bench suggested thatunder trials wait for offences entailing maximum sentence of seven years also be extended a similar benefit.
    • Local legal services authorities are actively assisting the high-level panels for identifying under trials who could be released on bail during the present scenario.
    • Till now, responses received from 232 districts reflect that around 11,077 under trials and 5,981 convicts have been released.

    National Legal Services Authority

    • Statutory Body:It has been constituted under the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 to provide free legal services to the weaker sections of the society and to organize Lok Adalats (an alternative dispute redressal mechanism) for amicable settlement of disputes.
    • Section 12of the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 prescribes the criteria for giving legal services to the eligible persons.
    • In line with Constitutional Provisions:
    • Article 39Aof the Constitution of India provides that State shall secure that the operation of the legal system promotes justice on a basis of equal opportunity, and shall in particular, provide free legal aid, by suitable legislation or schemes or in any other way, to ensure that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen by reason of economic or other disability.
    • Articles 14 and 22(1)also make it obligatory for the State to ensure equality before law and a legal system which promotes justice on a basis of equal opportunity to all.
    • Chairman:The Chief Justice of India is the Patron-in-Chief and the second senior most Judge of the Supreme Court of India is the Executive Chairman of the Authority.
    • At State and District Level:State Legal Services Authority has been constituted to give effect to the policies and directions of the NALSA. In every District, the District Legal Services Authority has been constituted to implement legal services programmes in the district.
    • It can be noted that the role played by NALSA and its networks is very much relevant to achieving the Sustainable Development Goal-16, which seeks to “Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels”.



    The National Safai Karamcharis Finance and Development Corporation (NSFDC) has issued advisory to municipalities, panchayats urging them to ensure that all sanitation workers are provided Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to remain safe during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

    Important Points

    • All local bodies were asked to put in place a standard operating procedure for the safety of sanitation staff.
    • There should be mandatory orientation for sanitation workers on Covid-19, social distancing norms and precautionary measures.
    • The local bodies were asked to provide equipment, including masks, gloves, gumboots and jackets, as well as soaps and hand sanitisers for helping maintain hygiene.

    National Safai Karamcharis Finance and Development Corporation

    • National Safai Karamcharis Finance & Development Corporation (NSKFDC) is a wholly owned Government of India Undertaking under the Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment.
    • It was set up in 1997 as a “Not for Profit” Company under Section 25 of the Companies Act, 1956 (now Section 8 of Companies Act 2013).
    • It is an apex Corporation for the all round socio-economic upliftment of the Safai Karamcharis, Scavengers and their dependents throughout India, through various loan and non-loan based schemes.
    • NSKFDC is also playing a vital role in elimination of manual scavenging – the worst surviving symbol of untouchability.
    • NSKFDC has been designated as the Nodal Agency for implementation of the Central Sector Self Employment Scheme for Rehabilitation of Manual Scavengers (SRMS) under the aegis of the Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment.

    Section 25 of the Companies Act, 1956

    • Section 25 of the Companies Act, 1956 provides an alternative to those who want to promote charity without creating a Trust or a Society for the purpose.
    • It can be noted that non-profit companies are established under Section 8 of the Companies Act, 2013 which broadly is similar to Section 25 of the Companies Act, 1956.
    • It allows the formation of a company existing as a legal entity in its own right, separate from the person promoting it.
    • However any company under this section must necessarily re-invest any and all income towards promoting the said object or charity.
    • In essence, unlike a regular company, where owners and shareholders can make profits or receive dividends, no money gets out of a Section 25 company.

    Benefits under Section 25:

    • Exempt from statutory requirements of minimum paid-up capital.
    • They are much easier to run than Trusts and Societies, as board meetings require a smaller quorum and requirements for calling such meetings are less rigid.
    • It is easier to increase the number of directors.
    • It is easier for people donating money to join or leave or transfer shares to others.
    • Such a company is obliged to fulfill far less stringent book-keeping and auditing requirements as against a regular company. These enjoy significant tax benefits. Such companies are also exempt from stamp duty payments.
    • Depending on how it is registered under the Income-Tax Act, companies could benefit from income-tax exemptions, or from the provision wherein people donating money to these companies receive income deductions in their income-tax liability.



    Recently, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has asked all Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) with foreign contribution licences to update the government on their efforts towards containing the Covid-19 outbreak every month.

    Important Points

    • NGOs receiving funds from overseas under the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA), 2010,have to report their Covid-19 related activities by the 15th of every month.
    • This was the MHA’s second request to NGOs in controlling the spread of the novel coronavirus.
    • Earlier MHA had requested NGOs to aid and supplementthe efforts of the government and local administration in fighting the spread of Covid-19.
    • The MHA had indicated the broad areas in which the NGOs could offer support, which includedsetting up community kitchens for migrants and the homeless, and providing shelter to homeless daily wage workers and the unemployed poor.
    • The request for assistance from NGOs comes after a concerted government crackdown on the social sector, which led to significant fall in overseas funding for NGOs.
    • Over the last five years, the MHA has deregistered as many as 14,500 NGOs, and has, over the last three years, cancelled the foreign contribution licences of over 6,600 nonprofits for violations of the provisions of the FCRA.
    • According to the government, FCRA-registered NGOs had received a total Rs 2,244.77 crore in 2018-19 (as on November 28) as compared to Rs 16,902.41 crore in 2017-18.

    Non-Governmental Organisations

    • Worldwide, the term ‘NGO’is used to describe a body that is neither part of a government nor a conventional for-profit business organisation.
    • NGOs are groups of ordinary citizens that are involved in a wide range of activities that may have charitable, social, political, religious or other interests.
    • NGOs are helpful in implementing government schemes at the grassroots.
    • In India, NGOs can be registeredunder a plethora of Acts such as the Indian Societies Registration Act, 1860, Religious Endowments Act, 1863, Indian Trusts Act,
    • India has possibly the largest number of active NGOsin the world, a study commissioned by the government put the number of NGOs in 2009 at 33 lakh.
    • That was one NGO for less than 400 Indians,and many times the number of primary schools and primary health centres.
    • Ministries such as Health and Family Welfare, Human Resource Department, etc provide funding to a handful of NGOs.
    • NGOs also receive funds from abroad, if they are registered with the Home Ministry under the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA).
    • Without this, no NGO can receive cash or anything of valuehigher than Rs 25,000.



    • More than 50,000 Civil Defence volunteersare assisting the local administration in implementing the measures to contain the spread of Covid-19.
    • Provisions under the State Disaster Relief Fund have been made by the central government for procurement of Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) to be used by the deployed workers.

    Important Points

    • All States and Union Territories barring Ladakh, Daman & Diu, and Puducherry have deployedcivil defence personnel.
    • Rajasthan, Karnataka, Kerala, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Uttarakhand and Assamhave taken the lead in using their services.
    • The volunteers have been deployed under the command of District Magistratesto assist the local administration in implementing the Covid-19 guidelines and policies effectively.
    • Contributions of the Volunteers:
    • Supplementing the local administration in conducting surveillance of suspected and confirmedCovid-19 cases by working as rapid response teams.
    • Manning hunger helplinesand assisting elderly citizens.
    • Helping in the maintenance of essential supplies,like packing and home distribution of ration and medicines.
    • Supplementing health workersand also carrying out community awareness drives on social distancing and hygiene practices.
    • Distributing PPEs, masks and sanitisers.
    • Setting up community kitchensand shelters for migrant workers and other stranded persons.

    Civil Defence

    • Civil Defence measures are designed to deal with immediate emergency conditions, protect the public and restore vital services and facilities that have been destroyed or damaged by disaster.
    • These operate under the Civil Defence Act, 1968and associated rules and regulations.
    • The Act wasamended in 2009 and in 2010, disaster management was included as an additional role.
    • It is applicable throughout the nation.
    • Although it is a Central law, Section 4 of the Civil Defence Act empowers State governments to raise corps at the local administration level as per their requirement.
    • The District Magistrate, District Collector or Deputy Commissioneris designated as Controller of the Civil Defence.


    • To save the life, to minimize loss of property, to maintain continuity of production and to keep high up the morale of the people.
    • During times of war and emergencies, to guard the hinterland, support the Armed forces, mobilise the citizens and help civil administration.
    • It not only includes the management of damage against conventional weapons but also the management of threat perceptions against Nuclear weapons, Biological & Chemical Warfare and natural and man-made disasters.
    • It isprimarily organised on a voluntary basis except for a small nucleus of paid staff and establishment which is augmented during emergencies.
    • Central Financial Assistance:The central government reimburses 25% of the expenditure (50% for North-eastern states except for Assam) incurred by the State Government on the authorized items of Civil Defence for raising, training and equipping of Civil Defence Service.

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