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Showing posts with label English Editorial. Show all posts
Showing posts with label English Editorial. Show all posts

Monday, August 9, 2021

For a richer haul: Olympic medals come when massive amounts of In Tokyo, India discovered: Results show the goal of putting the country in Olympic top ten is feasible (TOI)

M Venkaiah Naidu

The author is the Vice President of India.


The Indian tricolour, the pride of the nation, was hoisted in the Olympics arena after 13 years, on the penultimate day of Tokyo games, thanks to the young Neeraj Chopra, the first to win an athletic medal for independent India, in golden fashion.


The significance of Tokyo Olympics for India needs to be understood in the backdrop of despairing performances in the previous 24 Olympics that our country participated in, and which made the future look bleak. India made a profound statement in Tokyo asserting that ‘We too can do it.’


New India hoped for more medals every four years, only to be left frustrated with each edition. Tokyo marked a break with such a forgettable past, not merely in terms of number of medals, but in other ways too.


Dismal record


As a colony, India first took part in the Paris Olympics in 1900 and won two medals. It took 108 years to better that tally to 3 in Beijing and another 4 years to go up to 6 in London. But then the medal count fell to 2 in the 2016 Rio Olympics. Till the last Rio games, India could fetch only 27 medals in 24 Olympic ventures. No wonder, India lost its soul and confidence every four years. More so, when other similarly placed countries made rapid strides towards the medal stand.


The Tokyo takeaways


In the last Rio games in 2016, of the 118-strong Indian contingent, only about 20, including the men’s hockey team, could reach quarter-finals and above. Of the 120-plus athletes in Tokyo, 55 fought in quarter-finals and above.


Of the 18 disciplines that India contested in, our sportspersons made it to quarter-finals and above in as many as 10 disciplines. These include 5 in final fights for the gold medal, 43 in semi-finals in 4 events including hockey and 7 in quarter-finals of 3 events. All these contests were medal prospects.


Besides the 7 medals won in Tokyo, which marked India’s best ever Olympic performance in 121 years, it was the grit demonstrated by our athletes that made medal-hungry Indians cheer.


In a rare feat for India, Neeraj Chopra topped the javelin qualifiers and bettered it to win the gold, underlining the need for consistency. Kamalpreet Kaur in discus throw, Achanta Sharath Kamal and Manika Batra in table tennis, wrestlers Bajrang Punia and Ravi Dahiya, and our hockey teams testified to the new found grit of Indian athletes.


Fencer Bhavani Devi and golfer Aditi Ashok spoke for the bright future. A new Asian record in Men’s 4×400 metres relay was set up and national records in Men’s 800 metres race and long jump were bettered by our athletes. A better show in archery and shooting, our medal tally could have been much better. But Olympics are high-pressure settings. When our athletes’ day comes, we will have a rich harvest of medals.


The ‘Chak De’ moment


It was, however, the glorious ‘Chak De’ moment in hockey in Tokyo that restored the sagging morale of Indians. Given the past glory of 8 gold medals, the country’s love for the game, and the fact that hockey is part of the national pride, the failure to win a medal over the last 41 years has deeply dented the confidence and self-respect of our nation.


Spectacular performances by both the men’s and women’s teams, coming back grittily from behind at crucial junctures, will go down as defining landmarks in the resurgence of Indian sport. This ‘Chak De’ spirit is another reason for Tokyo games to be our best moment.


Mission ahead


Tokyo games defined our future mission. Four gold medals would have placed India among the top 20 in the medal tally and another four among the top ten. This is imminently feasible in the future given our show in Tokyo, as detailed and explained above.


The thrust given by GoI on identifying and promoting sporting excellence since 2015 bore results in Tokyo. This mission can be achieved by nurturing the culture of sports across the country and through necessary professional and scientific help to our future stars.


Tokyo games, our best moment in 121 years of Olympic history, demonstrated that India can do it. It is now Target Paris in 2024.


Courtesy - TOI

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For a richer haul: Olympic medals come when massive amounts of cash meet absolutely professional talent spotting (TOI)


We have done well but we must do much better. Tokyo has seen India score its biggest ever medal haul of 7 but rank only 48 in the overall tally. In 2008 we asked why it had taken so long for the first individual gold to come yet celebrated grandly, not knowing the wait for the next one would be 13 years long. Such a drought must not be repeated. We must triple our gold tally in Paris and take it to 10 in Los Angeles. These are realistic goals. Though shooting disappointed in Tokyo its base has been cemented over the past decade; now fill in the gaps. Embrace more ambitious visions in wrestling and boxing too.


Countries like the UK and China have achieved a striking upswing in Olympic fortunes with massive injections of cash. By one expert estimate GoI spends 3 paise per day per capita on sports as compared to China’s Rs 6.10, almost 200 times more. Still, money alone cannot cut it. Detailed planning, efficient scouting, investing in disciplines with the best medal prospects, thoroughly professionalising sports management, these are the true brahmastras.


The PPP model has scored wins in Tokyo but there is room for improvement. Alongside international exposure, pro leagues in men’s and women’s hockey plus a vibrant tournament circuit in individual sports, will make the difference between being on the podium or not. Corporate sponsors must really step up here, to help build a healthier ecosystem where audiences engage with a variety of sports and more jobs open up for sportspersons.


Expanding India’s talent lab is governments’ job. Our Olympians’ background stories make it clear how meagre resources remain at the grassroots level, how lackadaisical the sport administrations are. Realising our ambitions at the 2024 and 2028 Olympics means the work of identifying the next Neeraj Chopra, Mirabai Chanu, PV Sindhu, Manpreet Singh … must gather pace right away.


Finally, have the Tokyo Olympics been worth it? Every human being who has been uplifted by the grit, grace and excellence displayed by the world’s athletes amid a global pandemic, would say an emphatic yes.


Courtesy - TOI

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Tightrope walk: On reining in inflation and RBI’s credibility (The Hindu)

Governor Shaktikanta Das’s statement accompanying the RBI’s latest policy announcement highlights the bind that monetary authorities find themselves in. While the central bank’s growth supportive actions — maintaining the benchmark interest rate at a decade low, ensuring ample liquidity and an accommodative policy stance — are yet to help engender a meaningful recovery, inflation continues to disquietingly hover around the 6% upper bound of its mandated target. Governor Das acknowledged the RBI’s predicament when he said: “Before the onset of the pandemic, headline inflation and inflationary expectations were well anchored at 4%, the gains from which need to be consolidated and preserved. Stability in inflation rate fosters credibility of the monetary policy framework and augurs well for anchoring inflation expectations. This, in turn, reduces uncertainty for investors... increases external competitiveness and, thus, is growth-promoting.” It is this vital inflation targeting remit that the Monetary Policy Committee has temporarily set aside in the wake of COVID-19 and its brutal impact, while the central bank focuses its efforts on using all available policy tools to simultaneously preserve financial stability and support a durable economic revival. Still, the central bank’s outlook for growth and inflation shows it is cognisant of the ground realities and the limits to its policy options.


Asserting that domestic economic activity has started to recover with the ‘ebbing of the second wave’, the MPC is hopeful of a bounce back in rural demand on the back of agricultural output remaining resilient, coupled with urban consumption recovering as the manufacturing and service sectors rebound with a lag, and as increased vaccinations help release pent-up demand. However, given that underlying conditions are still weak and the Current Situation Index of consumer confidence in its own July survey is still stuck near the all-time low polled in May, the RBI has retained its full-year GDP growth forecast at 9.5%. The fact that it has at the same time lowered the Q2, Q3 and Q4 growth projections it made just two months ago, by between 0.5 and 0.9 percentage points, belies the uncertainty in its outlook. With the monsoon rainfall deficit once again widening to minus 4% as on August 8, latest kharif sowing estimates revealing an almost 23% shortfall and composite PMI data for July showing a persistent contraction in business activity and continuing job losses, it is hard to see either a near-term revival in demand or an easing in inflationary pressures from cereal and edible oil prices. Admitting the price pressures, the RBI has also raised its fiscal-year inflation projection by 60 basis points to 5.7%. Also, with one of the six members of the MPC dissenting and voting against the language of the policy stance, it seems clear the central bank may sooner than later have to bite the bullet and start normalising rates if it wants to avoid undermining its own credibility by delaying steps to rein in inflation.

Courtesy - The Hindu.

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Golden arm: On India’s medal tally at Tokyo Oympics (The Hindu)

India took on a golden glow at Tokyo on Saturday as Neeraj Chopra hurled the javelin to fetch the country its first Olympics gold in track and field. Neeraj’s winning effort at 87.58m capped the finest ever performance by Indian sportspersons in the quadrennial global stage. India won seven medals — one gold, two silvers and four bronzes — and cumulatively edged past the previous best of six at the 2012 London Games. For a country resigned to a meagre yield or none at the Olympics since its debut in 1900, the latest edition was laden with riches. At 23, Neeraj has the world at his feet and the skies to aim for. The Indian Army man has grown in stature, and to supplant German Johannes Vetter, until now the world’s best javelin thrower, was no mean task. Neeraj’s golden tryst was special at many levels; it was India’s maiden gold in athletics at the Olympics while Norman Pritchard had won two silvers in 1900. It was also India’s second individual gold at the Games after shooter Abhinav Bindra hit bullseye at Beijing in 2008. That Neeraj had previously won golds in the Asian Games and Commonwealth Games are all pointers to a journey that is on cruise-mode while his coach Klaus Bartonietz keeps a close watch.


Neeraj’s dash of magic seasoned in sweat and muscle, found mirror-images within the Indian contingent. Wrestler Bajrang Punia won bronze in the men’s freestyle 65kg bout, pinning down Kazakhstan’s Daulet Niyazbekov. It also bolstered India’s medals’ kitty that had prior contributions from Mirabai Chanu, Lovlina Borgohain, Ravi Kumar Dahiya, P.V. Sindhu and the men’s hockey team. What stood out was the Indian contingent’s belief that they can compete on level terms with their fancied rivals. It showed in Aditi Ashok’s golfing endeavour as she came tantalisingly close to silver before a rain-marred day out at the greens undid her rhythm and the Bangalorean finished at the fourth spot. When the curtains were lowered on the latest Olympics on Sunday, the India-story was largely driven by Neeraj, hockey-renaissance and women-power while shooting proved under-whelming. Among the rest, it was status quo as the United States of America and China led the medals tally with host Japan and Great Britain following while India was placed 48th in the table. Usain Bolt’s stardust was missed but Jamaica’s Elaine Thompson-Herah added zest while setting a new Olympic record of 10.61 seconds in the women’s 100m sprint. The pandemic delayed the Games by a year but it marches on unhindered while the fans look forward to the 2024 version at Paris.

Courtesy - The Hindu.

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Changing track (The Telegraph)

A second could be an eternity in sports. But on that sultry August evening in 1984 in Los Angeles, one-hundredth of a second was enough to stand between glory and despair for more than a billion Indians.


It was truly a run into history. A tall and lanky 20-year-old, with a tongue-twister name, Pilavullakandi Thekkeparambil Usha, missed her tryst with destiny to become India’s first woman Olympic medallist by the narrowest of margins in the country’s sport history. After crossing the finishing line together, a determined lunge at the photo finish helped Romania’s Cristieana Cojocaru beat Usha by 0.01 seconds to win the bronze in the 400 metres hurdles. Years later, Usha rued how she had run out of energy in the last 35 metres. The villain was her non-nutritional diet at the Olympic camp consisting of just kanji and kadumanga (rice porridge and her home-made mango pickle) for more than a week. She was forced to depend on this as no Indian food was available at the camp and she couldn’t stand the American baked potatoes and boiled chicken. She had no clue about nutrition issues and there was none to advise her either. Compare this with India’s Tokyo Olympic medallist weightlifter, Mirabai Chanu, who received such support for five years as the services of a famed conditioning coach and physio in the United States of America for which she was flown out a day before that country imposed restrictions on Indians. A daily fruit-and-fish diet comprising salmon, tuna and pork belly — all imported from Norway — was also ensured for her.


The LA Olympics turned out to be the moment of her greatest disappointment; but it also made Usha India’s greatest woman athlete.


For no Indian woman athlete has come nearer to her record in a track-and-field event even today although the weightlifter, Karnam Malleswari, became the country’s first woman Olympic medallist at Sydney 16 years later. India’s sprint queen reigned on Asian tracks for two decades, harvesting records and medals aplenty. The ‘Payyoli Express’s’ was much more than a personal achievement. She set a trend. Hundreds of Kerala girls from similar humble backgrounds were inspired to flock to sports to not only compete but also fight their own wretched living conditions. Consequently, India’s athletic world came to be dominated by Malayali girls from then. From Usha making Malayali women’s Olympic debut at Moscow in 1980 to that of her protégé, Jisna Mathew, at Rio 2016, as many as 19 Kerala women have worn India colours in the past 11 Games. Usha participated in three Olympics; her famous contemporary, Shiny Wilson, made it to four. Their successors, K.M. Beenamol, made it to three while the long-jumper, Anju Bobby George (the only Indian gold medallist at the IAAF World Athletics), the middle-distance runner, Chitra Soman, and Usha’s trainee, Tintu Luka, attended two each.


Tokyo Olympics 2020 would go down in history for various reasons, including its being held in 2021 due to Covid-19. But for Kerala, it would be historic as the first Olympics in four decades without a single woman competitor from the state. That too when the 127-member Indian squad boasted of a record 56 women. The 18-member athletic team included nine women. In a reversal of tradition, the Indian squad this time had a record nine men, including seven athletes from Kerala, where sports has long been dominated by women with 14 of them figuring in the state’s total of 16 Arjuna award winners.


Three Kerala women who were expected to make it to Tokyo failed in the trials held in Patiala, mainly on account of their injuries and the lack of sufficient preparations. While Jisna Mathew (4 x 400 m gold, Asian Athletics, 2017) finished fourth in the trials for mixed relay, V.K. Vismaya (4 x 400 m gold in the 2018 Asian Games) ended up last in the trials and the middle-distance runner, P.U. Chitra (1500 m gold winner at Asian Athletics, Doha, 2019), narrowly missed out. The Rio Olympics had four Malayali women: O.P. Jaisha (marathon), Anilda Thomas (4 x 400 m relay), Tintu Luka and Jisna Mathew. Usha’s trainees and national-record holders, Mayookha Johny (triple jump) and Tintu Luka (800 m), had also attended the London Olympics in 2012.


Why?


Most athletes, coaches and officials in Kerala blame it on the pandemic and the lockdown that deprived them of sufficient training, workout, competitions and travel. Tournaments were cancelled and there were restrictions on mobility. The postponement of the Tokyo Olympics by a year was welcomed by the sporting community as it was expected to provide it with more time for preparations. But the persistence of the pandemic perpetuated the restrictions. Since there were no competitions, Usha conducted meets at her school of athletics in Kozhikode from last September for her 20-odd wards. With her school and its synthetic track securely surrounded by hills, Usha’s trainees were India’s first athletes to resume training after the lockdown. Yet, it did not go as expected as the unrelenting virus caused further lockdowns. Usha says that the pandemic completely truncated her wards’ practice schedules as social distancing and the wearing of masks killed training protocols.


This, however, begs a question. Why then the record rise in the number of men who made it? Surely in Kerala too, every hurdle happens to be far more challenging for women than men on account of entrenched inequities. In spite of the better performance on the conventional indicators of health and education, the high incidence of domestic violence, a high suicide rate among women, low employment rate et al expose Kerala’s patriarchal underbelly. According to a research paper on the relationship between patriarchy and sports in Kerala, “gendered practice of sports marginalizes women in multiple ways.”


Besides the pandemic, many detect a falling interest among Kerala’s girls to join sports compared to the past. With economic prosperity and lower number of children in families, parents’ priority is studies over sports.


The primary reason for the waning interest appears to be the rise in Kerala’s general economic status since the 1990s. For long, sports was one of the attractive professions for Kerala’s youngsters dogged by poverty and high unemployment. It offered a passport to jobs and livelihood for Kerala’s youth, much like it did for the young footballers of South America. Most of Kerala’s famed sportspersons have come from poor families who live in hilly regions; they are thus physically stronger, making them suitable for endurance sports. The routine run to and from school through rough terrain makes them potential athletes. Kerala women’s advancement in sports also has to do with the generally better indicators like sex ratio, female literacy, life expectancy, higher age of marriage and lower infant and maternal mortality rates, notwithstanding the state’s patriarchal trappings.


Most women athletes happen to come from lower middle-class Christian farming families settled in the high ranges. Socially progressive than others, Christian families and churches have always encouraged girls to acquire education, take up sports or jobs like nursing to which Hindus and Muslims were indifferent due to caste and religious prejudices. Kerala’s women — mostly Christians — have traditionally excelled across the country and abroad as nurses. Kerala’s Christian community has provided the country with the largest number of nuns. Since the 1970s, with the state setting up a string of sports schools and organizing more competitions, they began to look at sports as a livelihood option.


But with rising economic prosperity, physically demanding and less-paying professions are becoming unattractive in Kerala in spite of high unemployment. This and Kerala’s high wages have led to a huge inflow of migrant labourers from other states to take up manual jobs. According to a report, there has been a 40 per cent drop in the number of nuns and priests from Kerala. Ditto with the number of nurses getting registered or migrating abroad, according to a study by the World Health Organization. Once among India’s poorest states, Kerala has gone up economically since the 1990s and is now one of the five most prosperous states, thanks to the flow of remittances from the Malayali diaspora in the Gulf. Kerala’s per capita income in 2019 was 1.5 times higher than that of the national average with annual remittances crossing Rs 1 lakh crore that formed 30 per cent of the state’s GDP. Girls being encouraged to take up sports would be the least priority for most middle-class families.


Pursuing sports for survival must have been affected by other factors, such as the fall in population (Kerala had the lowest decadal growth rate in the 2011 census) and the rise of the nuclear family. There is another new trend: the declining sex ratio at birth in contrast to the state’s overall picture of females outnumbering males. Kerala saw the sharpest fall among major states in the last five years, according to the latest National Family Health Survey report. It fell to 951 in 2019-20 from 1,047 in 2015-16, while Kerala had the highest overall sex ratio — 1,121 — among the major states, up from 1,049 during NFHS-4.


The author, a senior journalist based in Trivandrum, has worked with various print and electronic media organizations


Courtesy - The Telegraph.

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Shadows lengthen, A European fascism? (The Telegraph)

How safe are Europe’s democracies from the majoritarianism that nudged Myanmar into violent ethnic cleansing and China into the systematic dissolution of the Muslim Uighur? Europe is an interesting case in the contemporary history of majoritarianism. Europe is generally seen as the home of resilient democracies and Enlightenment values, so it’s useful to examine how resistant its nations are to the anti-minority politics in the ascendant in so many parts of Asia. In recent times in Myanmar and China, State discrimination and civil society bigotry have combined to create arguably fascist forms of oppression.


Two member states of the European Union, Poland and Hungary, have become notorious for State-sponsored bigotry. The EU has considered sanctioning these states for their anti-Semitism, their encouragement of homophobia and their trumpeted hostility to immigration in general and Muslims in particular. Their majoritarianism is similar to Myanmar’s: the religious identity of the majority has been weaponized to distinguish ‘real’ citizens from false ones. In Myanmar, Buddhism and its sangha were mobilized in the service of majoritarian identity; in Poland, we have Catholicism and the Church.


Important though they are to the politics of Europe, Hungary and Poland won’t determine its political direction. They are doubly marginal: they are part of the EU’s post-communist ‘eastern’ rim and they are latecomers; they joined the EU’s core countries twelve years after the Maastricht Treaty in 2004. The EU was the brainchild of France and Germany, the two countries central to the project of European unification, and it is the fate of France that will shape the nature of the European project.


On the face of it, France is historically vaccinated against the virus of majoritarianism. The Revolution’s root-and-branch hostility towards the Catholic Church and the determined religion-blindness of laïcité, France’s take on secularism, ought to guard against State and civil society backsliding into bigotry. This assumption makes the mistake of assuming that religious majoritarianism is about religion when it is a project of ethnic consolidation against a nominated minority.


The revolution in France led to the emancipation of the Jews from formal discrimination. But amongst the majority, including France’s intellectuals, emancipation was seen as a prelude to complete, unconditional assimilation. Casual anti-Semitism was common in Enlightenment France. Diderot was anti-Semitic, as was Voltaire. To note this is not to ask that we cancel our intellectual forbears for failing to be perfectly consistent or progressive. It is to observe that the intellectual pioneers of liberty, equality and fraternity were willing to caveat their principles, both explicitly and in practice, and these caveats had historical consequences.


Post-revolutionary France, having deleted the Church from the public realm, imagined that it had created secularism. In fact, all it had done was to elevate the average Frenchman complete with his cultural preferences and prejudices, and minus Christianity, into the archetype of the secular citizen. His habits, his fashions, his rules about facial hair or head coverings, his definitions of overt religiosity, would now define France’s good citoyen. Laïcité became an inquisitorial rule, a way of obsessively policing (and suppressing) public difference.  


Government officials specifying how much skin women have to show before they can swim on a public beach doesn’t strike the French as grotesque. This is the Gaullist version of ‘we shall fight on the beaches’. In 1905, when laïcité was formally enshrined in law, the burkini wouldn’t have been an offence against French secularism because every woman who visited a beach at the turn of the century was similarly covered up. A century ago, the French woman at the beach wore a wool dress up to her knees, with bloomers underneath and the skin below her knees was covered by stockings and bathing slippers. The French don’t see the absurdity of defining secularism in terms of rising hemlines and changing fashions. A thought experiment is a useful way of appreciating the monstrousness of laïcité: if France was a nudist colony, circumcision would be disallowed as a public avowal of religious identity.


Laïcité makes the historical experience and practice of a relatively homogenous Christian population in the 19th and early 20th centuries a template for regulating the behaviour of a much more diverse modern society. The French simply assume that laïcité is culturally, historically and religiously neutral, untouched by France’s imperial history, uncoloured by its experience of Christianity or its encounter with racism and anti-Semitism. Laïcité is dangerous because it makes a virtue of intolerance. Nineteenth-century French intellectuals who should have known better saw no contradiction between republican virtue and anti-Semitism: having parked their Christianity in its proper place, they were keen to purge Jews of their Jewishness so they could vanish into the Republic.


But we know that assimilation didn’t help. There are poignant stories about patriotic French Jews so ideologically assimilated that they couldn’t bring themselves to reproach the republic for interning them in Vichy France. Germany’s Jews, let’s not forget, were the most thoroughly assimilated minority in Europe.


This April, a thousand French soldiers, including twenty generals, some retired, others on the reserve list, signed an open letter in a right-wing magazine, warning Macron that deadly dangers threatened France. They warned that a civil war was brewing and denounced “Islamism and the hordes of the banlieu”, the mainly Muslim migrant suburbs that surround Paris. The defence minister denounced the letter and threatened sanctions, but no concrete action was taken against the signatories. Marine Le Pen, leader of the Front National and Macron’s most formidable rival for the presidency, endorsed the letter. There are around five million Muslims in France.


If Marine Le Pen were to win the French presidency, the danger isn’t that France will change beyond recognition; the danger is that the Republic will accommodate the Front National’s neo-fascist majoritarianism without having to change. French liberals and socialists might object but it is the majoritarianism written into laïcité that allows Le Pen to segue from anti-Semitism to Islamophobia within the rhetoric of ‘secularism’. It’s the reason why Marianne, France’s goddess of Liberty, can look like Marine le Pen or sound like Brigitte Bardot.


Europe’s anti-clerical Enlightenment thinkers admired Imperial China for a seemingly ‘secular’ State, anchored in Confucianism, a humanist ethical system, rather than in organized religion. In Xinjiang, China repaid the compliment by taking laïcité to its logical conclusion: shaving faces, razing mosques, nationalizing Islam and educating Muslims out of their beliefs. No one in France — or Europe —should say that they weren’t warned.


Courtesy - The Telegraph.

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Why the RBI should buy NBFC bonds (The Economic Times)


Quick takes, analyses and macro-level views on all contemporary economic, financial and political events.


Uday Kotak has stated that the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) might inevitably have to expand its balance sheet to support the economy amidst the raging pandemic. The central bank does precisely that when it carries out long-term repo operations. However, there is scope for the RBI to provide direct liquidity support to large non-banking financial companies (NBFCs) that play a vital role in meeting the credit requirements of swathes of small and medium industry.


It is true that RBI has shored up liquidity conditions for the banking system in the past one year for onward lending, and is providing further liquidity support this fiscal. Note that the central bank has announced its pathbreaking G-SAP, government securities acquisition programme under which RBI would purchase government paper to the tune of Rs 1 lakh crore in the first quarter of FY22. Further, its targeted long-term repo operations (TLTROs) are meant to provide credit to smaller NBFCs, but, again, via bank funding. But NBFCs do have a critical role in India’s credit system, providing, as they do, credit for largely un-banked segments, and the way forward is for the RBI to directly purchase the paper issued by major league NBFCs. It would rightly and speedily step up credit support across the board.


The central bank is in the process of thoroughly revamping its oversight on NBFCs with a four-layered regulatory structure, based on such parameters as operational size, leverage, interconnectedness and nature of activity. The way ahead is for the largest NBFCs to issue bonds for direct subscription by RBI. The central bank needs to phase in making use of corporate bonds in its liquidity management operations, to boost demand for these bonds.

Courtesy - The Economic Times.

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The tweaks vaccine policy cries out for (The Economic Times)

Quick takes, analyses and macro-level views on all contemporary economic, financial and political events.


India’s Covid vaccination drive has expanded eligibility for the jab, even as production is yet to ramp up. This means policy must be finetuned to allocate vaccines to those who need them most. First, instead of leaving allocation of vaccines among the states to vaccine manufacturers, the Indian Council of Medical Research must guide vaccine makers, based on transparent parameters such as vulnerable populations size, rate of vaccination, number of Covid cases, positivity rate and record of vaccine wastage. Vulnerability should be measured in terms of both the current pace of pandemic spread and size of both healthworker/frontline worker groups and the elderly population. States should prioritise vaccine delivery by vulnerability.


Second, ICMR must provide clear information on the minimum and maximum gap between the two doses of vaccines being administered. This will help avoid panic among those who have already taken the first shot but are finding it difficult to get the second. Third, the central government must strengthen and simplify the technological backbone of the vaccination drive, the CoWIN app. It must be easy to access irrespective of technological savvy. The app must be programmed to prioritise those who have had their first dose, so that they can get their second jab within the stipulated time frame. Voluntary organisations should help the digitally non-savvy to get enrolled, till vaccine supplies increase to a level when walk-in registration at vaccination centres becomes feasible. Four, map out delivery centres to maximise access and minimise crowding and infections.


Rather than a few big centres, favoured by some states, the focus should be on many smaller centres—using local primary health centres, community halls and other such facilities to set up vaccination centres. Arrangements must be made to whisk away those who develop allergic reactions to well-equipped intensive care units. It will make it easier for people particularly those who are daily wagers and informal sector workers to get vaccinated.

Courtesy - The Economic Times.

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Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Character challenge: On GoI's directive to Twitter (The Hindu)

The Government of India’s directive to microblogging platform Twitter that it remove the label ‘manipulated media’ from certain posts shared by functionaries of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), including Union Ministers, has no legal leg to stand on. But it reveals that the Government of India is willing to go to any lengths to empower BJP functionaries to tarnish political opponents and misinform the public. The BJP functionaries circulated on Twitter what they called a ‘toolkit’ prepared by the Congress to disparage the government. The Congress has filed a police complaint that the BJP functionaries forged a document that does not exist. It has also written to Twitter to permanently suspend the accounts of those who circulated the forged documents. There is indeed a document that the Congress prepared on the opportunity costs of the Central Vista project for its internal use. The one circulated by the BJP leaders included additional pages on COVID-19. The BJP has failed to provide the digital footprint, or the copies, of what it calls the COVID-19 toolkit. There is no evidence that the Congress has done anything in the toolkit which was supposedly prepared in May; but the toolkit proposes courses of action that have already happened in April, an analysis by fact-checking platform AltNews has revealed. Toolkits are meant to be about coordinating future actions on social media, and not cataloguing past events. When challenged on facts, a BJP propagandist revealed the identity of a woman who was involved in the Central Vista research, leading to her bullying by cyber mobs.


Twitter has not complied with the Centre’s directive, and at least six handles of BJP functionaries now have posts with the tag ‘manipulated media’. The reasoning behind the directive, in the absence of any legal provision to cite, by the Government of India is baffling. It has argued that the labelling was a “prejudged, prejudiced and a deliberate attempt to colour the investigation by local law enforcement agency”. By this metric, a private company must allow what it has determined as problematic content, until a state agency concurs. Twitter has a publicised policy that it may label tweets that include media that have been deceptively altered or fabricated. It could use its own mechanism or use third party services to make that determination. Twitter is a private entity whose relationship with users is guided by its terms of services. The IT Act that empowers the government to regulate content does not give it the power to order the removal of a label. Additionally, the government move raises serious concerns regarding arbitrary censorship and transparency. The Centre’s desperation to control any discussion on its failures, and shift the focus on to the Opposition is leading to such situations that embarrass a democracy. Rather than intimidate a private company, the BJP and the Centre should discipline its functionaries into more civility and truthfulness in their engagement with critics.

Courtesy - The Hindu.

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Losing time: On delay in formation of Cabinet in Puducherry (The Hindu)

The delay in the formation of the Ministry in Puducherry does not appear to be merely because Chief Minister N. Rangasamy was indisposed for some days. He took charge on May 7 before taking ill; he has now recovered from COVID-19, but there is no word on Cabinet expansion. The delay is a reflection of the uneasy relationship between Mr. Rangasamy’s N.R. Congress, and its ally, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has been paying special attention to the Union Territory to become a major force. On the face of it, the delay is because of the Chief Minister’s hospitalisation and his home quarantine, which was over on Sunday (May 23). But his illness did not come in the way of the Centre making three BJP members nominated legislators of the Assembly. One reason that is holding up Ministry formation is the BJP’s demand for the Deputy Chief Minister’s post and a few ministerial berths, as stated by Union Minister of State for Home Affairs G. Kishan Reddy, one of the point persons of the BJP for Puducherry. But it was evident that Mr. Rangasamy was not too enthused by the national party’s proposals. A few days before assuming office, he was on record to say that there was no precedent of Puducherry having had a Deputy Chief Minister, but would consider the matter if the Centre created such a post. However hard it may be for him, Mr. Rangasamy has to contend with the reality that the BJP’s strength in the Assembly is just one short of his party’s 10, after the nomination of the three MLAs. Lieutenant Governor Tamilisai Soundararajan, on May 21, appointed K. Lakshminarayanan as the pro-tem Speaker of the Assembly, paving the way for the early swearing-in of MLAs.


However, what bothers the people of the Union Territory — it has a population of about 12.5 lakh (2011 Census) — is that there is no full-fledged elected government in place during a raging COVID-19 pandemic. Between May 8, the day after Mr. Rangasamy became Chief Minister, and May 24, the number of active cases went up by 2,250; the total number of active cases stood at 15,835 on Monday. In this period, the toll rose by almost 50% and as on Monday, 1,382 persons have died since the outbreak of the pandemic. Puducherry does need a vibrant and imaginative Health Minister to beat the virus. This is also an opportunity for the N.R. Congress and the BJP to set aside their differences and show that they have genuine concern for the welfare of the people by forming the Council of Ministers at the earliest. This is no time for procrastination.

Courtesy - The Hindu.

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Why the RBI should buy NBFC bonds (The Economic Times)

Quick takes, analyses and macro-level views on all contemporary economic, financial and political events.


Uday Kotak has stated that the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) might inevitably have to expand its balance sheet to support the economy amidst the raging pandemic. The central bank does precisely that when it carries out long-term repo operations. However, there is scope for the RBI to provide direct liquidity support to large non-banking financial companies (NBFCs) that play a vital role in meeting the credit requirements of swathes of small and medium industry.


It is true that RBI has shored up liquidity conditions for the banking system in the past one year for onward lending, and is providing further liquidity support this fiscal. Note that the central bank has announced its pathbreaking G-SAP, government securities acquisition programme under which RBI would purchase government paper to the tune of Rs 1 lakh crore in the first quarter of FY22. Further, its targeted long-term repo operations (TLTROs) are meant to provide credit to smaller NBFCs, but, again, via bank funding. But NBFCs do have a critical role in India’s credit system, providing, as they do, credit for largely un-banked segments, and the way forward is for the RBI to directly purchase the paper issued by major league NBFCs. It would rightly and speedily step up credit support across the board.


The central bank is in the process of thoroughly revamping its oversight on NBFCs with a four-layered regulatory structure, based on such parameters as operational size, leverage, interconnectedness and nature of activity. The way ahead is for the largest NBFCs to issue bonds for direct subscription by RBI. The central bank needs to phase in making use of corporate bonds in its liquidity management operations, to boost demand for these bonds.

Courtesy - The Economic Times.

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Put off the Olympics (Livemint)

This sports extravaganza, originally scheduled for the summer of 2020, has already been postponed once. Tokyo will be well advised to push it further down the calendar to 2022.


With less than two months to go before the Tokyo Olympics kick off on 23 July, Japan has been hit by a fourth wave of covid. Its second-largest city of Osaka is witnessing an explosion of cases that has overwhelmed its healthcare infrastructure, with beds, ventilators and essential drugs running short and doctors struggling to cope with it. On Monday, news emerged that its army had been deployed to conduct vaccinations.


Any event that requires thousands of people to converge from almost every country in the world and then disperse is bound to be highly risky from a pandemic perspective. Japan’s recent spike in cases has only raised anxiety levels. The host country was once seen to be doing better than others in keeping infections under control. But its vulnerability has risen sharply. Less than 5% of its population has reportedly been inoculated so far, and even emergency rapid-jab camps run by its armed forces may not be able to create the requisite rings of safety in time for the games. This sports extravaganza, originally scheduled for the summer of 2020, has already been postponed once. Tokyo will be well advised to push it further down the calendar to 2022.



Courtesy - Livemint.

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The second wave challenge (The Indian Express)



Written by S. Mahendra Dev

The second wave of the pandemic is receding although it continues to have a significant adverse impact on lives, livelihoods and the economy. Meanwhile, the threat of a third wave is looming large. The impact of the pandemic on the economy is expected to be lower this time as the lockdown is less stringent. However, one difference between the first wave and second wave is that the latter is spreading to rural areas also. It is known that rural areas have poor health infrastructure. Similar to the first wave, inequalities are also increasing during the second wave. Thus, India has to address both growth and inequality issues.


The overall GDP growth would be less than the earlier expectations — the GDP growth in 2021-22 is expected to be around 8 per cent. The level of real GDP in 2019-20 was Rs 145.7 lakh crore. At the end of 2021-22, the level of GDP may be the same or lower than that in 2019-20. In other words, India would have zero per cent or negative growth over the two-year period FY20 to FY22. This is on top of the continuous slowdown of the economy during the eight quarters preceding the pandemic. India may become a $5-trillion economy only in 2026-27 or beyond with the assumption of 12 per cent nominal growth in the next few years. In other words, much more effort is required to compensate for the lost growth and put the economy on a higher growth path.


The country has to address the issue of rising inequalities for achieving higher sustainable growth and the well-being of a larger population. Inequalities were increasing earlier also, but the first and second waves of the pandemic have widened them further. The State of Working in India 2021 report of the Azim Premji University revealed that both poverty and inequality increased during the first wave. According to this report, the pandemic would push 230 million people into poverty. CMIE data shows a decline in incomes and rising unemployment during the second wave. In the week ended May 16, 2021, around 56 per cent of households reported a loss of income compared to a year ago. Unemployment increased to 14.5 per cent in the same week and it is high in rural areas also. India is suffering from a job crisis. The recent RBI Bulletin says that the impact of the second wave appears to be U-shaped. “In the well of the U are the most vulnerable — blue collar groups who have to risk exposure for a living and for rest of society to survive; doctors and healthcare workers; law and order and municipal personnel; individuals eking out daily livelihood; small business, organised and unorganised — and they will warrant priority in policy intervention.”


The recovery seemed to be K-shaped during the first wave. The share of wages declined as compared to that of profits. A large part of the corporate sector could manage the pandemic with many listed companies recording higher profits. On the other hand, the informal workers including daily wage labourers, migrants, MSMEs etc. suffered a lot with loss of incomes and employment. The recovery post the second wave is also likely to be K-shaped with rising inequalities.


What are the policies needed for higher growth and a reduction in inequalities? The government should have a three-pronged approach.


First, an aggressive vaccination programme and improving the healthcare facilities in both rural and urban areas is needed. Reducing the health crisis can lead to an economic revival. Vaccine inequality between urban and rural areas has to be reduced. As rural areas have poor health infrastructure, more efforts are needed to reach the rural areas for vaccination. The crisis can be used as an opportunity to create universal healthcare facilities for all, particularly rural areas. Other states can learn from Kerala on building health infrastructure.


Second, the budget offered some good announcements relating to capital investment in infrastructure. The Development Financial Institution (DFI) for funding long-term infrastructure projects is being established. A boost to infrastructure investment, including in rural areas, can lift the economy out of the Covid-19 induced slowdown. The government has to fast track infra investment. This can revive employment and reduce inequalities.


Third, there is a need for safety nets including cash transfers. The informal workers and other vulnerable sections including MSMEs have been dealt back-to-back blows in the last 13 months due to the first and second waves. A majority of workers have experienced a loss of earnings. Therefore, apart from its focus on infrastructure, the government has to provide safety nets in the form of free food grains for six more months, expand work offered under MGNREGA in both rural and urban areas and undertake a cash transfer to provide minimum basic income.


On economic growth, the RBI Bulletin says that “the biggest toll of the second wave is in terms of a demand shock” as aggregate supply is less impacted. There are two views on a consumption revival. One view is that once the second wave subsides and the majority are vaccinated, consumption will return to normal levels. The second view is that demand will be a constraint because of loss of incomes and employment. In the medium term, the investment rate has to be increased from the present 30 per cent of GDP to 35 per cent and 40 per cent of GDP for higher growth and job creation. There is positive news on exports as the global economy is reviving. Export is one of the main engines of growth and employment creation. However, in recent years India’s trade policy has become more protectionist and the country has to reduce import tariff rates.


Monetary policy is already very accommodative and there are limits to more accommodation. In the near term, fiscal policy has to play a more important role in achieving the objectives of growth, jobs and equity by expanding the fiscal space by restructuring expenditure, widening the tax base and increasing non-tax revenue. Of course, fiscal policy has to return to a stable path in the medium term.


 The writer is director and vice chancellor, IGIDR, Mumbai.

Courtesy - The Indian Express.

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The virus humbles victors: Stories of national success in the pandemic have an embarrassingly short shelf-life (TOI)

Protect students: Don’t risk lives for Class 12 boards. Focus on innovating pathways to higher education


Times of India’s Edit Page team comprises senior journalists with wide-ranging interests who debate and opine on the news and issues of the day.


India’s devastating Covid second wave has served a bitter lesson against complacent attitudes, including those that allowed mass gatherings. This lesson should shape all decision-making in the foreseeable future. Currently, Centre is involved in deliberations with states on deciding the modalities for conducting Class 12 CBSE board exams. Two options have been presented: One proposes regular exams only for the major subjects in August. The second option moots short duration tests involving multiple choice and short answer questions in two phases over July and August, recognising varying regional spread of the pandemic.


However, both options detain students in exam halls in an indoor setting: 180 minutes for option A and 90 minutes for option B. So both carry the risk of indoor exposure to the virus. The latest government scientific advisory even warns of aerosol spread up to 10 metres. Nor are the Class 12 students vaccinated. Many parents haven’t got jabs either. Experts worry the next wave could predominantly hit schoolgoers for these reasons. Heed their advice and avert potential superspreader events in this demographic.


Understandably, students are anxious about future prospects in the absence of exams. It is indeed critical that fair internal assessment procedures be devised instead. And scores in Class 12 boards are not the only gateway to higher education. In a situation where these scores cannot help in rational, comparative assessments, the onus falls on higher education institutions to reimagine admission processes. Some institutions have successfully conducted online entrance tests and interviews to select students. Such capabilities must be explored across the board. With the window for students pursuing international admissions also narrowing, CBSE must act fast. Uncertainty multiplies anxiety.


At least two states are open to conducting exams if students are vaccinated. There is no unanimity here: Some states want physical exams when the Covid situation improves, others like Maharashtra oppose the exam route. Basing decisions on the second wave’s downward trend is also dangerous given the risks posed by mutations and the largely unquantified rural outbreak. Maharashtra’s Amaravati district, which signalled the second wave in February, is encountering a Covid upswing again. India is still detecting 2 lakh-plus cases daily, over two times higher than the first wave’s peak. If  July or August coincide with another wave, the whole process could be vitiated, prolonging the agony for students. If exams trigger Covid clusters, that isn’t good either. Prioritise lives over exams. Decide wisely.

Courtesy  - TOI

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Thursday, May 20, 2021

Fresh start: On Pinarayi Vijayan’s second term (The Hindu)

By choosing 17 fresh faces in the new Council of Ministers of 21, the Left Democratic Front (LDF) in Kerala is trying to signal a continuing willingness to evolve as a responsive political organisation. Barring Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, the CPI(M) has not nominated any of its Ministers from the previous term. All four Ministers of the CPI are new. Eight Ministers are first time MLAs, as is the Speaker nominee, M.B. Rajesh. The composition of the Council broadly reflects the State’s social diversity; and there are three women, the highest in history. The CPI(M) has reconfigured its social base in Kerala, at significant cost to the Congress, and it is reinforcing those trends through the selection of Ministers. Veena George and Saji Cherian are being rewarded for leading a shift of Christian voters in Central Travancore to the party. A judicious mix of youth and experience, the Council is an attempt at messaging to the electorate a fresh resolve of the LDF, particularly the CPI(M). But the exclusion of K.K. Shailaja, who has been in the spotlight for her role as Health Minister, has set off criticism against the CPI(M) from many quarters, including its own support base. After having won with a huge margin, she was expected to provide continuity to the State’s fight against the pandemic. Her exclusion does seem like changing horses midstream. K.N. Balagopal and P. Rajeev have proven their mettle as parliamentarians and in the organisation. P.A. Muhammad Riyas happens to be Mr. Vijayan’s son-in-law, and R. Bindu the wife of CPI(M) Acting State Secretary A. Vijayaraghavan. Both merit inclusion in their own right.


The crowd of 500 expected at the swearing-in ceremony today is, however, bad optics, in the midst of a pandemic which remains untamed in the State that is in lockdown. The new government has more challenges — a cyclone rained misery in the coastal areas this week, and fears of floods loom along with the monsoon clouds. The State’s finances are in a shambles. The CPI(M) had replaced 22 sitting MLAs who had finished two terms with new candidates in the election. Several senior leaders were already benched by this criterion. The party subsequently decided to nominate only fresh faces to the Council by way of reiterating the primacy of the organisation over individuals. Ironically, the choices also raise valid concerns of the increasing concentration of power in the hands of Mr. Vijayan. In a Council packed with newcomers, the CM will command such authority that an open discussion on any topic could be difficult. Given his complete sway over the party and the government, the onus is on him to empower the Ministers. Officials whom he trusted put him and the party in a spot many times during the first term. By restoring political consultations, including within the CPI(M), and keeping the bureaucracy disciplined, Mr. Vijayan could make his second term better than the first.


Courtesy - The Hindu.

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Flashing lights: On sliding economy and cash transfers (The Hindu)

The RBI’s latest monthly bulletin has just confirmed what many economists and anecdotal evidence have been pointing to — a sharp backslide in economic momentum. In an article on the State of the Economy, RBI officials including Deputy Governor Michael Debabrata Patra have flagged the ‘demand shock’ inflicted by the ferocious second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, they have cited the loss of mobility, impact on discretionary spending and increase in unemployment as clear signs that demand is in the doldrums. Several high-frequency indicators for April have captured the reversal in momentum. GST e-way bills, an indicator of the health of domestic trade, contracted 17.5% month-on-month, while automobile fuel consumption, commercial vehicle sales and domestic air passenger traffic all shrank from the preceding month. And the previously relatively unscathed rural economy too saw demand begin to dry up as new infections spread wider and deeper into the countryside, a trend reflected in a 33.5% contraction in the dispatches of two wheelers and a palpable weakening in demand for tractors. Also, unemployment, which hit a four-month high of 8% in April as per a survey by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy, was at 9.5% on May 18 based on a 30-day moving average. Crucially, rural unemployment captured by the moving average has risen to 8.6%, and this at a time when the pandemic’s grip and higher spending on health are likely to be pushing up precarity among households in the hinterland.


Looking ahead, the critical risk to the economy even as it tries to recover from the last fiscal year’s crippling contraction is posed by the speed at which the virus continues to spread in the country. With the pace of vaccinations having slowed nationwide, more so in rural and semi-rural areas, the agriculture sector is likely to face challenges in the coming months when sowing for the kharif crop will need to be done. The reports on the infections and deaths linked to the disease from the villages and towns portray a grim picture and it is hard to see rural demand for anything other than the barest of essentials including food and medicines reviving any time soon. Add to this the rising cost of transport fuels, and the sharp increases in commodity prices, cutting across agricultural and industrial raw-materials segments and one sees ‘a worsening of domestic cost conditions’ as the RBI officials warn. Accelerating inflation threatens the economy’s overall consumptive capacity and policy makers need to be wary of the real danger of stagflation. The shrinking fiscal space notwithstanding, authorities need to spend more on an expedited nationwide vaccine roll-out and must seriously consider direct cash transfers to boost demand.


Courtesy - The Hindu.

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Counting on cynicism (The Telegraph)

Samantak Das 

The personal, we are told, is political, yet the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, the second wave of which is wreaking havoc across India at this moment, seems to have driven a perceptible wedge between the two. Since this column last appeared in the pages of this newspaper a month ago, roughly three dozen people I know quite well have contracted the coronavirus disease, and some half-a-dozen have succumbed to it. Among those who have died of Covid-19 are former teachers and colleagues, neighbours, friends of relatives, and relatives of friends. Every death has come as a shock, every new case has brought in its wake a dreadful foreboding of what might follow. Even as I type this out, several of the students in my department are battling the disease, a childhood friend is hospitalized with it, and a close friend and colleague is (thankfully, fingers crossed) on his way to gradual recovery. Add to this the tension about where near and dear ones might receive their second dose of the vaccine; the frantic search for oxygen for an aged relative a fortnight ago; the constant worry and despair about those we know and love; and the apprehension that each day will bring yet another piece of ill news. In every single instance the horror and dread have been at a deeply-felt, personal level. Every email one sends or receives either begins or ends with an expression of hope that the recipient is staying safe and keeping well, and every telephone conversation begins with an enquiry about each other’s health and that of their loved ones. My experience is by no means exceptional or unusual — I suspect anyone reading this has felt the same emotion any number of times, especially during these last few months.


Yet, if one is able to pull back, as it were, and look at the larger picture, things appear different. The leaders of the party in power in New Delhi are seemingly more concerned with building the hideously expensive new Central Vista, fudging the numbers of those infected, dead or dying, and denying either that there is a shortage of oxygen in our hospitals and health centres or that unacceptable numbers are dying of the virus (even as corpses float down the Ganges). With the official figure of those who have contracted the disease having crossed 25 million (widely believed by experts to be a gross underestimate), and deaths exceeding 2,80,000 and counting, how is this possible? The usual answer finds the root cause of this disaster in a combination of misplaced confidence, distrust of expert opinion, lack of planning, inept governance, and plain callousness. But could it be that there is a method in this seeming madness? A calculation based on a cost-benefit analysis that has concluded that the misery and mortality wrought by the virus are worth it? That the long-term gains in terms of power and influence are considerably greater than the short-term losses in terms of lives and livelihoods?


India has a little less than 1.4 billion inhabitants, and if we accept the official figure of roughly 25.5 million coronavirus cases as of date, that works out to less than two per cent of the population. Even if the count is multiplied 10 times, or even more, as some experts think it ought to be, the number of cases comes to about 20 to 30 per cent of the total population. Deaths are being undercounted too, but probably by not much more than a factor of two or three. Where mortalities are concerned, the official toll is barely over one per cent of all coronavirus cases, and if we take the higher figure for both infections and deaths (10 times the number of infections, three times the number of deaths), the number falls to one-third of one per cent, or 0.33 per cent. Now, one-third of one per cent of 1.4 billion is 4.66 million. The United States of America has had over 6,00,000 deaths so far in a population of 333 million, or a mortality rate of roughly 0.18 per cent, if one considers the population as a whole. If the same mortality rate were to be seen in India, the number of deaths would be 2.52 million, but, in actual fact, it will probably be smaller, not least because a virus tends to mutate to the point where it can thrive without killing off its host organism. This is likely to happen with the SARS-CoV-2 virus as well, so that eventually we will become accustomed to living with it, as it makes the shift from pandemic to endemic. Whichever way one looks at it, even if the absolute figures are horrifying, the percentage of the population which may eventually succumb to the coronavirus is actually quite small. This ongoing pandemic will infect tens, if not hundreds, of millions of Indians, and leave hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of us dead.


It doesn’t matter what our individual fears and personal tragedies might be, when seen from a distance, as a collective, the percentage of Indians who will actually succumb to the virus is negligible. Or, in other words, once the dust settles, and the dead are disposed of, the number of people who will still be around to vote in the next general elections will not be very much less than those who voted in the last one. This, essentially, is the algorithm of cynicism, a barely-disguised contempt for the people, which seems to be driving those at the helm of power in our country. The fact that no other nation is asking its people to pay for the Covid-19 vaccine, or asking states to foot the bill for vaccine purchase (instead of doing so Centrally), or encouraging differential pricing by private vaccine manufacturers is just one instance of this calculated, number-based cynicism. Bodies will be burned, or buried, or thrown into rivers and streams, but the edifice of the now-under-construction Central Vista in our grandly-imagined capital city will remain. In the years to come, we, the atmanirbhar  people of India, will learn to live with the memory of the pandemic (which will fade, as memories do), a government that is indifferent, and often hostile, to our woes (which we will get used to, as humans do), a shining new multi-billion dollar capital city, and towering statues of noble Indians dotted across the landscape, in villages and towns (which we will grow to love and admire, as we do so much of the grand panoply of state). The original cynics of ancient Greece abjured all worldly possessions and sought to live on as little as possible; the present-day cynics who rule our destinies feast on delusions of eternal grandeur.


Samantak Das is professor of Comparative Literature, Jadavpur University, and has been working as a volunteer for a rural development NGO for the last 30 years.

Courtesy - The Telegraph.

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Why the RBI should buy NBFC bonds (The Economic Times)

Uday Kotak has stated that the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) might inevitably have to expand its balance sheet to support the economy amidst the raging pandemic. The central bank does precisely that when it carries out long-term repo operations. However, there is scope for the RBI to provide direct liquidity support to large non-banking financial companies (NBFCs) that play a vital role in meeting the credit requirements of swathes of small and medium industry.


It is true that RBI has shored up liquidity conditions for the banking system in the past one year for onward lending, and is providing further liquidity support this fiscal. Note that the central bank has announced its pathbreaking G-SAP, government securities acquisition programme under which RBI would purchase government paper to the tune of Rs 1 lakh crore in the first quarter of FY22. Further, its targeted long-term repo operations (TLTROs) are meant to provide credit to smaller NBFCs, but, again, via bank funding. But NBFCs do have a critical role in India’s credit system, providing, as they do, credit for largely un-banked segments, and the way forward is for the RBI to directly purchase the paper issued by major league NBFCs. It would rightly and speedily step up credit support across the board.


The central bank is in the process of thoroughly revamping its oversight on NBFCs with a four-layered regulatory structure, based on such parameters as operational size, leverage, interconnectedness and nature of activity. The way ahead is for the largest NBFCs to issue bonds for direct subscription by RBI. The central bank needs to phase in making use of corporate bonds in its liquidity management operations, to boost demand for these bonds.


Courtesy - The Economic Times.

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The tweaks vaccine policy cries out for (The Economic Times)

India’s Covid vaccination drive has expanded eligibility for the jab, even as production is yet to ramp up. This means policy must be finetuned to allocate vaccines to those who need them most. First, instead of leaving allocation of vaccines among the states to vaccine manufacturers, the Indian Council of Medical Research must guide vaccine makers, based on transparent parameters such as vulnerable populations size, rate of vaccination, number of Covid cases, positivity rate and record of vaccine wastage. Vulnerability should be measured in terms of both the current pace of pandemic spread and size of both healthworker/frontline worker groups and the elderly population. States should prioritise vaccine delivery by vulnerability.


Second, ICMR must provide clear information on the minimum and maximum gap between the two doses of vaccines being administered. This will help avoid panic among those who have already taken the first shot but are finding it difficult to get the second. Third, the central government must strengthen and simplify the technological backbone of the vaccination drive, the CoWIN app. It must be easy to access irrespective of technological savvy. The app must be programmed to prioritise those who have had their first dose, so that they can get their second jab within the stipulated time frame. Voluntary organisations should help the digitally non-savvy to get enrolled, till vaccine supplies increase to a level when walk-in registration at vaccination centres becomes feasible. Four, map out delivery centres to maximise access and minimise crowding and infections.


Rather than a few big centres, favoured by some states, the focus should be on many smaller centres—using local primary health centres, community halls and other such facilities to set up vaccination centres. Arrangements must be made to whisk away those who develop allergic reactions to well-equipped intensive care units. It will make it easier for people particularly those who are daily wagers and informal sector workers to get vaccinated.


Courtesy - The Economic Times.

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Friday, May 7, 2021

A steep price (The Telegraph)

Prabhat Patnaik   

The Narendra Modi government’s ineptitude (or call it complicity with monopolists’ extortions) knows no limits. In the midst of a terrible pandemic when there is a shortage of vaccines, there are three obvious things any government must do: first, distribute the vaccine free among the people, which is but a recognition of everyone’s right to life; second, introduce monopoly purchase of the vaccine by the government, no matter what the criteria and through which channels it chooses to ration it out among the people; third, fix the purchase price at a fair mark-up over unit prime cost.


The vaccination regime in India began with these features (although private hospitals distributing government-procured vaccines charged Rs 250 per dose, which was questionable but not large enough to cause disquiet). Most inexplicably, however, the government ‘liberalized’ vaccine sale from May 1. The Central government would now buy only half the vaccine output and provide it free to those above 45. State governments and private hospitals would buy the other half and distribute it to those aged between 18 and 45.


The prices paid by the three sets of buyers are different. For Covishield, prices would be Rs 150 for the Central government (even though this is not yet settled), Rs 300 for state governments (originally Rs 400 but lowered later) and Rs 600 for private hospitals. Covaxin prices would be Rs 150, Rs 400 (reduced from Rs 600 originally) and Rs 1,200, respectively. Many state governments have announced that they would provide the vaccines for free but given the parlous state of their finances, they may not be able to do so. Several people would be forced to access private hospitals and pay hefty amounts to get vaccinated. India would be an exception among countries, almost all of which are now providing free vaccines to their people.



Even if the state governments find the resources to provide free vaccines, this would entail a wholly unwarranted transfer from state exchequers to a duopoly of vaccine-producing firms for the prices they are charging are scandalous. At the current exchange rate, what the Serum Institute of India, manufacturing Covishield, is charging state governments (Rs 300) translates to $4.00 per dose; its price to private hospitals (Rs 600) comes to $8 per dose. But AstraZeneca, whose product is Covishield, is charging $2.18 per dose to the European Union and $4 to the United States of America; the Indian prices are thus higher than the prices for the EU and the US.


It may be thought that since the Central government pays less, the higher prices to state governments and private hospitals are meant to cross-subsidize sales to the Centre. But the SII also wants to charge Rs 300 per dose to the Central government (Rs 150 is what it was charging earlier and the Centre has unilaterally stated that the same price will continue); so, cross-subsidization cannot explain the higher prices for state governments and private hospitals. Besides, the weighted average price, even assuming that the Central government buys at Rs 150 per dose, with the sale proportions being 1/2:1/4:1/4, respectively, to the Centre, the states and private hospitals, comes to Rs 300 or $4.00; this still exceeds the price charged to the EU, and equals the US price (despite manufacturing costs being much lower in India).


The higher price in India is not required to earn surpluses for expanding the firm’s capacity. For such expansion, the Central government has separately given SII Rs 3,000 crore. Besides, the SII can raise resources through the usual channels. The higher price for Covishield, therefore, is totally unjustified.


Over-charging is even greater for Covaxin manufactured by Bharat Biotech. BB is charging the Central government Rs 150, state governments Rs 400 (Rs 600 originally but later reduced) and private hospitals Rs 1,200. Its excuses for charging even more than the SII are ridiculously feeble.


It claims to have spent Rs 350 crore on clinical trials, which it wishes to recoup. But significant amounts of public funds have gone into the development of Covaxin (R. Ramakumar, Scroll.in, April 26). Besides, even if BB’s claim is accepted, the additional charge compared to Covishield, which it is levying on state governments and private hospitals, Rs 100 and Rs 600, respectively, assuming the same ratio of sales as above, and total sales of three crore doses per month from May onwards that it envisages (in fact sales are supposed to increase), would recoup this amount in just 20 days, after which higher prices on this score cannot be justified even by BB’s own logic.


Likewise, BB argues that Covaxin prices have to be higher than Covishield as the latter got a grant of $300 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. But the weighted average price for Covaxin, again assuming the same ratio of sales, is Rs 475 per dose, which is Rs 175 more than for Covishield. On a sale of three crore per month, even ignoring increases in sales that must occur, this amount can be recouped in just over four months; what is the justification for higher prices after that?


The argument that resources are needed for expanding capacity is, once again, untenable, since the Central government has just given Rs 1,500 crore for BB’s growth. It is obvious, therefore, that the two firms are blatantly engaged in profiteering during a pandemic. This is ironically confirmed by the very reductions in prices they have announced.


Such profiteering is unacceptable. It is especially odious when public money goes to finance their growth, and has gone into developing the product of one of them. But profiteering has become possible because the Central government has ‘liberalized’ vaccine sale. ‘Liberalization’, amazingly, has not entailed any consultation among the manufacturers and state governments and private hospitals, or any scrutiny of their costs of production, or any agreement on the pricing formula based on such costs. For agricultural products, there is a Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices that fixes the minimum support prices and the procurement prices by looking at costs of production; but for a critical commodity like the Covid vaccine, even this minimal procedure has not been followed. The companies have simply told state governments and private hospitals, ‘This is our price, take it or leave it’, knowing perfectly well that their clients cannot afford to ‘leave it’. And, strangely, the Central government, concerned about the price it has to pay, has left state governments and private hospitals completely at the mercy of these firms.


The motive for ‘liberalization’ is mysterious. In almost all other countries at present, vaccine producers do not sell to private hospitals, which was the case in India before ‘liberalization’. The earlier policy, of the Central government bulk-buying from the two firms at a pre-fixed price and then distributing the vaccines, should have continued. Why it was discontinued defies reason when this measure has encouraged profiteering.


Short of taking over the firms, either permanently or for the duration of the pandemic (as Spain did to private hospitals earlier), a Central government that cares for the people has two options which it must follow simultaneously: one, use ‘compulsory licensing’ to start new production facilities that break the stranglehold of the duopoly and expand capacity more rapidly; two, compulsorily buy the entire output at Rs 150 per dose and then distribute through various channels as before. And in all cases, it must arrange that vaccination is free for the people. But does the Modi government care?

Courtesy - The Telegraph.

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