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Showing posts with label The Times of India. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The Times of India. 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


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


Tuesday, May 25, 2021

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


Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Pandemic 101: The IPL jolt underlines how much all economic activity is dependent on controlling Covid (TOI)

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.

Indefinite suspension of the Indian Premier League after participants tested Covid positive underlines that no one and no economic activity is safe until everyone is safe. By keeping crowds out of stadiums, IPL had eliminated the superspreader dangers of mass political or religious gatherings. But keeping players protected and preserving the bio-bubble in Delhi while the pandemic raged outside proved too tough. BCCI should also examine how the basic protocols followed by franchises successfully in UAE last year failed in an Indian milieu.

Staging IPL amid a public health emergency had its supporters and detractors. BCCI noted that it had “tried to bring in some positivity and cheer” amid difficult times for India. In addition sport is a jobs and revenue generator. So what has happened here is definitely relevant for the country at large. It is a stark reminder that reviving economic activity to pre-pandemic or pre-second-wave levels will be possible only when the tools to fight Covid are optimally deployed and the current surge is brought down to manageable levels. This could be why CII president Uday Kotak has mooted a “nationwide maximal response measure at the highest level” and curtailment of all “non-essential economic activity” to break the chain of transmission.

But the widespread destruction of livelihoods by last year’s “hard” lockdown should not be forgotten, nor the painful logjams created in separating essential and non-essential activities, many of which actually worsened the health toll of the pandemic. Of course different restrictions are anyway under effect in different parts of the country, and localised controls will continue to be needed for some time. As far as the stated aim is to reduce viral transmission and bring down caseloads to manageable levels for doctors, many of whom are close to breaking point, governments should not use movement curbs as a proxy for essential pandemic governance. As the undermining of green corridors for ambulances by increased police chowkis illustrates, lockdowns can even aggravate India’s medical supply chain crisis.

Fixing the vaccine pipeline, enabling mass uptake of medical grade masks, improving the quality of testing, more genome sequencing, plugging the logistical leakages for medicines and oxygen, upping triage management to reduce the exhaustion of both health seekers and health givers etc – experts have been clear and convincing on what will really make a difference.  Lockdowns are no magic bullet. Getting these fundamental public health responses right is the only path to normalcy.

Courtesy - TOI


Sickly state, healthy democracy: Elections held during deadly pandemic surge expose India’s real flaws and strengths (TOI)

Ruchir Sharma

Ruchir Sharma is the author of the upcoming ‘10 Rules of Successful Nations’

Those of us who see these as dark times for Indian democracy can take heart from the recent elections, not only because of the way regional parties stood up to the Centre’s ruling party machine, but also because of the highly unusual nature of their win in the key battleground state.

In surviving the BJP onslaught in West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee also beat overwhelming odds. She became only the 10th CM to win a third term in more than 200 major state elections held since the mid-1970s, when India became a true multi-party democracy. BJP had many advantages – from voter hostility towards a long-serving incumbent to the brute power of its heavily financed machinery – but still fell short.

India’s problem right now is not a broken democracy, it is the broken state. In the late phases of the balloting in West Bengal, BJP lost more momentum as the pandemic started spinning out of control. This turn is likely explained at least in part by growing popular anger at the central government’s handling of the rising caseload.

In recent weeks India has suffered one of the biggest surges of any country so far. Cases rose roughly twelvefold according to official figures, and the real toll is likely many times worse. A crisis of this magnitude would stress even the world’s best healthcare system. In India, it has exposed a pre-existing frailty – a broken state.

A few developed countries, such as France and Italy, also suffered rapid second waves, but managed to lower death rates from the first wave. Their health systems had readied for the shock. In India, the second wave has brought with it scenes of devastation reminiscent of the dark ages.

When I watch overwhelmed hospitals turning away patients at the gates, leaving them to die at home or suffer in the streets, I am haunted by thoughts of my grandfather. He died of a heart attack under similar circumstances, turned away from a public hospital in Uttar Pradesh, where there was no doctor on night duty and an orderly tried but failed to install a pacemaker. That was 1993. India’s underlying tragedy is how little progress has been made since.

Among the world’s 25 biggest emerging markets, India ranks last for the number of hospital beds per 1,000 citizens, fifth from last for doctors, fourth from last for nurses and midwives. Even if you drop richer emerging markets and compare India to other large countries with per capita incomes between $1,000 and $5,000 – which includes Pakistan and Bangladesh – India still looks mediocre on these basic healthcare measures.

Government spending generally rises as a share of the economy as countries grow richer. India’s government spends the equivalent of about 30% of GDP, which is roughly in line with other nations in its income class. So the problem is not the size of India’s state, but how it spends.

When PM Modi brought BJP to power in 2014, he mocked the welfare populism of his predecessors. Yet soon he was vying with them in his promises of generous freebies, from gas to food and pucca homes. Today, welfare spending accounts for 9% of GDP – far higher than the miracle economies India would like to emulate, like South Korea and Taiwan, when they were at similar levels of development.

Modi has meanwhile done little to modernise the basic structure of India’s state, which harks back to British rule. Many of India’s laws, and the structure of its federal ministries, including home and finance, date back to the late 1800s. The corruption in public works that author Munshi Premchand was vividly describing in his novels a century ago has yet to abate.

Our healthcare system was supposed to be revamped along lines described by the Bhore commission of the 1940s, but its comprehensive blueprint for hospitals and clinics throughout the country has yet to be realised. Instead, we have the sad reality of underfunded clinics, featuring operating rooms without surgeons, x-ray machines without radiologists. Some have beds without nurses, others have nurses without beds to attend. Economists who say India needs to spend more often have little to say about how badly our resources are currently deployed.

It is no surprise this unfinished and uncoordinated health system would falter in the face of a global pandemic. Modi promised “minimum government, maximum governance” but rather than reform India’s outdated state, he has centralised power to a greater degree than any other leader in India’s democratic history.

He set himself up as the nation’s saviour, who would solve its every problem. Even a Formula 1 driver would not make much progress in an Ambassador, the old Indian-made jalopy. The reality is that BJP can no longer claim to offer a superior model of governance, and that reality is starting to catch up to it at the polls.

The good news is that private groups, as they have before, are rushing in to provide what the government does not. Expats are sending money and medical resources from abroad. Residential associations are providing whatever assistance they can muster to ailing neighbours. So far, the Indian stock market has barely flinched over the rising death toll, perhaps reflecting a collective intuition that India will survive this crisis too despite its broken state.

Courtesy - TOI


Tuesday, May 4, 2021

An avoidable tragedy: Scores of patients dying because they couldn’t get oxygen in time points to a failure of governance (TOI)

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.

A most visible reminder of India’s governance failure on the heels of the second wave of Covid-19 is the constant flow of news about shortage of medical oxygen. Cases of patients dying after hospitals run out of oxygen are being reported from across the country. In the latest tragedy, 24 patients are reported to have died in Karnataka over the weekend after hospitals ran out of oxygen. While the state government says it is examining the exact cause of deaths, what is not in doubt is that there is an oxygen crunch.

The underlying causes of the problem became evident when the Supreme Court recently took up a suo motu writ petition in the backdrop of this humanitarian crisis. In India, steel plants are major suppliers of oxygen. As they are unevenly distributed, allocation of oxygen is decided by the Centre, with states responsible for organising transport. Problems begin here. Oxygen requirement of a state changes constantly depending on the case load. Political incentives to fudge data can’t make this task simple. Moreover, some states may simply not be in a position to lift their supply from far away.

There are heart-wrenching accounts of citizens being left to fend for themselves even as the solicitor general has stated that there’s enough oxygen supply for the country but there’s a shortage in some states. Weeks into this cruel shortage – or allocational mismatch – different administrations remain entangled in bureaucratic faceoffs even though India’s Covid-19 battle is supposed to be underpinned by a “whole-of-government” approach. The capital’s plight is particularly notable. The apex court has asked the Centre to solve Delhi’s problem by the midnight of May 3 after hospitals have been reduced to taking to social media to plead for oxygen day after day, even as erratic supplies cause tragic deaths.

What the recent weeks reveal is that both Centre and states have been woefully unprepared for the second wave. To make matters worse, there appear to have been coordination issues not only between the Centre and states, but also within districts in states. There’s an urgent need to sort out basic logistics and ensure that petty procedural holdups don’t lead to loss of lives. Simultaneously, we need to be prepared for coming challenges. In this context, the Centre’s decision to expand the healthcare force by suspending the medical PG entrance exam is a good step. Governments must stop passing the buck and get their act together.

Courtesy - TOI


Trinamool fortress stands: How Mamata managed to withstand the siege laid to her citadel by BJP (TOI)

By Shibashis Chatterjee and Sumit Ganguly

The West Bengal election results have demonstrated that despite the battering rams that BJP brought to bear against the Trinamool Congress  fortress, the edifice, though a bit pockmarked, still stands strong. Its ability to withstand the concerted attacks from BJP requires some explanation, because TMC under CM Mamata Banerjee had entered this election sandbagged with weighty problems.

At the outset, after a decade in office, it faced the threat of anti-incumbency. Under her watch the state hasn’t clocked significant economic growth. In fact, during her second term in office the state saw an average growth rate of 5.5% against a national average of 7.1%.

Despite lagging behind the higher national growth rate, TMC pursued a range of welfare schemes that offset the shortcomings of a less-than-stellar economic performance. Specifically, it targeted such sectors as the rural economy, agriculture and education. In 2019 it announced the Krishak Bandhu scheme which provided 7.2 million farmers and sharecroppers an annual subsidy of Rs 5,000. It also provided the state’s poor free electricity and under the Karma Sathi Prakalpa initiative it offered loans up to Rs 2,00,000 to promote entrepreneurship amongst unemployed youth. These measures, no doubt, redounded to TMC’s advantage, probably assuaging anti-incumbency sentiments.

A host of other factors also worked in its favour. Despite the Modi-Shah combine’s vigorous campaign rallies in the state, they couldn’t offer a viable CM candidate. On the other hand Mamata, her imperious manner notwithstanding, was seen as a reasonable prospect for the position. More to the point, in all likelihood, she commanded the trust of women voters who can identify with her.

It’s also reasonable to surmise she managed to corner the bulk of the Muslim vote in the state. To begin with, it’s known that 65% of the Muslim electorate had voted TMC in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Given that this indicated a predisposition of the community to support TMC, the highly polarised election campaign that BJP unleashed, without a doubt, alienated Muslim voters.

Muslim voters seeing few meaningful alternatives, in all probability, closed ranks behind TMC. The same cannot be said about their Hindu counterparts. BJP, in this campaign, unleashed a relentless effort to forge a Hindu monolith in Bengal. However, it failed to recognise that Hindus remain divided along lines of class, ideology and sect. BJP had sought to cobble a coalition of lower castes, high castes and tribals, relying on fanning anti-Muslim hysteria. This effort may have appealed to a segment of the Hindu population but didn’t have sufficient resonance with the entire community in the state.

In a related vein, Mamata also deftly played the regional, nativist card. Declaring Amit Shah to be a “bahari” (outsider) she successfully tapped into Bengali regional pride and the state’s distinctive identity. Shah, despite his attempts to counter this charge could not overcome the hurdles of language, cultural iconography and the suggestion that the BJP is really a north Indian party.

These issues, combined with the state’s long-standing unease with a range of central governments, give reason to believe that the allegation resonated with voters who have long believed that the state has been treated as a stepchild. Organisational muscle at the grassroots level, without question, also played a significant role in shaping the outcome of the election.

In this context, TMC’s decision to recruit Prashant Kishor and his Indian Political Action Committee proved to be a significant asset in this election. He not only helped ease out corrupt and haughty TMC notables but also helped to regenerate local governance programmes including “Duare Sarkar” (government at the doorstep). The success of these efforts undercut one of BJP’s key messages, which had sought to highlight TMC’s lacklustre economic performance and its failure to attract substantial new investment into the state.

Finally, because of its tragic consequences, the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic worked to BJP’s disadvantage. For all its bluster, the state-level BJP leadership failed to proffer any credible explanations for the failure of the national government to stave off this calamity. For a party that had long touted its record of effective governance, its abject failure to cope with the effects of the pandemic severely dented its image.

Despite her loss in her home constituency of Nandigram, to Suvendu Adhikari, who had recently broken ranks with the TMC and had joined the BJP, Mamata has stopped the seemingly inexorable onward march of the BJP juggernaut in Bengal. She had asked for a recount. However, even if the Nandigram verdict stands, given her pivotal position in the party she will, no doubt, remain its éminence grise.

Consequently, the party will serve as a bulwark against BJP’s goal of extending its reach across eastern India. Given the material, organisational and other resources that BJP had poured into the state during the campaign, its loss, along with the adverse results in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, must give its leadership some pause. How it chooses – in the wake of its substantial electoral losses – to recalibrate its future electoral strategies, not to mention its grand ideological agenda, will bear watching.

Shibashis Chatterjee is Professor of International Relations and Governance, Shiv Nadar University. Sumit Ganguly is Distinguished Professor of Political Science at Indiana University, Bloomington.

Courtesy - TOI


Friday, April 30, 2021

Weighing our net zero challenge: It’s not just about energy. India has to assess technological, economic and societal transitions (TOI)

Jyoti Parikh

The writer is Executive Director of Integrated Research and Action for Development (IRADe)

Recently, there has been a flurry of articles on whether India should commit itself to attain net zero emissions of greenhouse gases and if so, when. What net zero emissions mean is that India will emit only as much emissions as could be absorbed by our forests, crops, vegetation, soils etc. Most articles point out the difficulties of meeting such goals and the high cost of doing so, whereas those in favour have optimistic views of technologies. We flag key issues, fallacies and pointers in this debate, some not raised before.

Target year is not the only measure of an achievement. Somehow reaching ‘net zero’ is seen as the goal only in terms of a year by which it is to be achieved: 2050, 2060, 2070 etc. We recall that the GHGs, especially CO2, have very long lifetimes and persist for more than 100 years. In such a long-term pathway, the peaking year, peaking height, the rate of decelerating to zero, and time taken to reach net zero are equally important.

One can combine all these in one number: Cumulated emissions of an entire pathway. So it is not how early you arrive to net zero, but how little you emit along the way, that will cause less damage. Even if one reaches late but emits less along the pathway, then that country is more climate-friendly. If cumulated from 1990-2017, India has emitted 33 GT compared to 147 and 149 GT by the US and China out of 733 for the world. Putting pressure on India is not equitable to India.

Some argue favouring net zero goal early, because when many countries announce their intentions there is usually technological progress. For example, subsequent to the Paris Agreement in 2015, solar prices fell dramatically and so did energy storage prices. So if net zero announcements and action make them fall further and bring new innovations, transition may be less difficult than we imagine. Thus, this trend among the nations is to be supported but when India can reach net zero and what are the challenges ahead need to be examined first.

Critical problems may arise in most countries for their governments which are run by collection of massive taxes and excise duties on crude and refined products such as petrol, diesel, LPG, aviation fuel and taxes on coal. In India, these amount to around Rs 3,80,000 crore in the 2021-22 Budget even without including the taxes paid by the public sector fossil companies and constitute nearly 17% of central government’s tax revenue. Currently, Indian Railways subsidises passenger travel rates by the high freight rates on coal. How will the Centre and states meet their expenditures for health and education without fossil fuel taxes?

Fossil industries have created a large number of jobs in various phases of the supply chains ranging from coal mining, coal handling, washing and transport and finally building power plants, transmission and distribution networks, and in operating them. For oil and gas, it is shipping, port handling, exploration, refinery, dispensing and supplying to the consumers on daily basis for decades. In contrast, the jobs generated by renewable energy installation are ‘one-time’ jobs for putting up the solar or wind generation facilities amounting to weeks, months or a year depending on the size.

Fossil behemoths such as Coal India, NTPC, Indian Oil, BPCL, HPCL, ONGC may need to change their business tactics or give way to small, medium and large solar, wind and hydropower agencies. The central government basically has a hold over the energy sector through these companies. In a low or zero carbon world, this sector will be relying more on the consumer-oriented private sector.

Thus we see that the transition to net zero seen by most as an energy sector problem concerns tax resources to run governments, stranded assets, and associated non-performing assets of the banking sector, and large-scale employment issues. We are facing triple transitions – technological, economic and societal.

Yet, India is in a good position as its emissions are quite low despite its 1.3 billion people now. It has the opportunity to leapfrog to LED bulbs, electric vehicles, electric cooking and digital technologies which can create an enabling environment. The issue is how soon India should do net zero and how. It calls for a careful consideration of the above factors.  Simultaneous modelling efforts by multiple teams are needed to decide this. Yes, India need not rush without chalking out a clear strategy.

Meanwhile, GoI rightly worries about the sanctity of the international commitments because in the past, these commitments were not met: Rio Convention’s pledge to go back to the 1990 emissions levels in 2000, revised Kyoto commitments of 1997, pledges of $100 billion of finance made at Copenhagen in 2009, the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) that was given up halfway.

The Paris Agreement began in earnest in 2015 and making net zero as a follow-up programme makes better sense than starting a new race, a new goal post. However, net zero should not merely be defined by the date of reaching it but also by the cumulative emissions of the emission pathway that a country makes till that date from 1990 onwards.

Jyoti Parikh is Executive Director and Kirit Parikh is Chairman of Integrated Research and Action for Development (IRADe)

Courtesy - TOI


Together we can (TOI)

 Amit Lodha

Amit Lodha IPS - Inspector General Magadh Range Gaya Bihar

“Kyun Pahnu Main Mask ? Why should I wear a mask?” shouted the Delhi woman. Her equally agitated husband created a ruckus simply on being admonished by the policemen for not wearing a groom.

A few thousand kilometers it was an IAS officer insulting and manhandling people for flouting prohibitory orders at a marriage function.

These two incidents have brought out the character of a small few at both ends of the spectrum; the people and the administrations.

Simply put the Corona virus pandemic is a grave crisis, unprecedented in every which way. The magnitude and speed at which this crisis has unfolded was beyond the imagination of most of us. Even though the administration failed in ensuring adequate healthcare facilities across the country, there is no point blaming anymore, at least now. We as people were equally confident that the worst was over. Most of us had stopped wearing masks and had started going on with our lives, as if nothing had happened. Some had in fact preferred not to get vaccinated as they did not feel the need for safety any longer. And then calamity struck. We were jolted badly from our idyllic lives. The governments and its departments started working at every level.

Also the wonderful stories of selfless people working to provide comfort and solace to the victims and their families warmed our hearts. But along came some unscrupulous people who have no shame, people who are profiteering during such an unparalleled humanitarian crisis.

As a police officer who is at the forefront of fighting the pandemic. I exhort people to help us overcome this challenge. Please form volunteer groups both offline and online but only if you can genuinely contribute. Do not spam or flood social media with unverified messages, non productive criticism, petty politics and most of all unreasonable requests to the members of the administration and the medical fraternity. I have personally got so many requests for “VIP” treatment from the very same people who condemn these publicly. Of course, their requests have not been acceded to. Then their are people who have panicked so much that they have hoarded critical medicines and supplies, that could have been used for the genuine patients. Some people have got beds for their wards even when they are not serious, denying someone else critical treatment. The worst thing that people can do right now is to ransack hospitals and man handle doctors.

We can keep finding faults in our management of handling the pandemic. We can compare our country’s situation with that of New Zealand or the US. But we must not forget the entirely different milieu, the socio economic conditions. Israel has vaccinated almost 60% of its population but then it is a much smaller country and the people and the administrator are extremely disciplined.

This war will be won too provided we win every day battles. All of us should follow the basic Covid protocols, get vaccinated and follow the various guidelines.

I also hope that we improve our immunity to this virus and other diseases by having a more stress free and active life style. Sounds cliched but positive thinking is a wonderful antidote. I also wish that fake news and horror stories do not flood our mobile screens.

Salute to the countless individuals, doctors, Police and other personnel who are working tirelessly. Their hard work will definitely result in a better tomorrow. The human spirit is indomitable.

We have to stand by each other in these trying times. Together we will overcome this crisis.

Courtesy - TOI


Wednesday, April 28, 2021

US steps up: India’s Covid fight gets a much needed shot in the arm with American support (TOI)

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.

With fresh Covid cases exceeding 3 lakh for the sixth day in a row, and more than 2,000 deaths for the seventh consecutive day, India’s health infrastructure is gasping for oxygen. It’s therefore welcome that the US has sprung into action with President Biden pledging full support for India’s Covid fight, in a phone conversation with PM Modi. In fact, the full spectrum of the American machinery has been mobilised, with defence secretary Lloyd Austin saying that he had directed the Pentagon to use all available resources to support the US inter-agency effort to assist India.

Similarly, US secretary of state Antony Blinken met with leaders of the US business community and the US India Business Council to mobilise support for India. In fact, around 40 top American companies have come together to create a first-of-its-kind global task force for India to provide it with critical medical supplies, vaccines, oxygen and other life-saving assistance. Meanwhile, raw materials are being shipped from America to the Serum Institute to ramp up vaccine production.

All of this indicates the strength and durability of the US-India relationship – after an initially slow response in India’s grave hour of crisis when US messaging was off. Those bilateral and institutional connections need to be leveraged at this hour of crisis. And if the US wants to work with states and other institutions across the country instead of channelling all aid through the PMO, New Delhi shouldn’t make it a sticking point in negotiations. Indeed, given India’s size, decentralised disbursement is likely the quickest and broadest way to channel aid across the country.

India and the US can, as a matter of fact, work together for the benefit of the Indo-Pacific region as a whole – as was envisaged during the Quad summit – where US capital, technology and logistics capabilities are married to Indian vaccine production capacities. The Hyderabad-based vaccine manufacturer Biological E getting US funding to manufacture the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a good example of such cooperation. The case for such cooperation isn’t just moral but also practical – if the US focusses on fighting Covid within its borders alone while the disease rages unchecked in India and other parts of the developing world, sooner or later disease variants will make their way back to the US and the Western world. Let’s allow Indian and American institutions to directly work together in tackling Covid instead of permitting red tape to bog them down.

Courtesy - TOI


Averting the next massive wave: India needs to commit a much larger and faster investment to vaccine manufacturing (TOI)

Arvind Panagariya

The writer is Professor of Economics at Columbia University.

Even as we battle the massive wave of Covid-19 infections, it is important to take steps to avert the next such wave. For unless we take these steps, another wave is all but certain. As on April 23, the United States had fully vaccinated 36% of above-18 population and given the first jab to another 17%. Yet, it had been averaging 60,000 cases per day. Adjusting for population size, this is equivalent to 2,50,000 cases in India.

The first and foremost step towards averting another Covid-19 wave is much larger and faster investment in vaccine manufacturing than currently planned. Scaling up Covaxin production to 100 million units per month by July would be too little too late. Assuming necessary raw materials are available, the objective should be to boost production capacity to at least 500 million units per month. Bharat Biotech need not be the only manufacturer of the vaccine. Production licence may be given to other credible and qualified manufacturers.

If necessary, the government must use public funds to buy full ownership of the patent on Covaxin at a reasonable price from Bharat Biotech. It should then mobilise multiple manufacturers to go full speed. It should also invest in rapid expansion of other vaccines such as Covishield and Sputnik V.

A key reason why the United States has been able to move ahead rapidly with vaccination is that its government invested heavily in de-risking vaccine research, trials and manufacturing early on. According to a paper by Chad Bown and Thomas Bollyky, the government began assisting vaccine manufacturers financially as early as February 2020. By March 12, 2021, it had committed more than $20 billion on clinical trials, manufacturing and future purchases of vaccine doses. Of this, more than $15 billion had been invested even before President Joseph Biden took office.

In an article published on January 7, 2021, I had recommended that India invest $8-10 billion in public money in vaccines. My argument then was that with the economy losing several billion dollars each week to Covid-19, we would more than recoup this investment through a speedier full restoration of economic activity. To this, we may add the benefit of saving tens of thousands of lives should there be another wave of infections.

Turning to the strategy for the administration of vaccines, we need to recognise that the recent decentralisation of purchase and allocation of vaccines has been a mistake. Given that the pandemic constitutes a national public health emergency, optimal response to it requires planning, coordination and prioritisation of vaccine delivery at the national level. This is also the approach taken by the United States, a country that otherwise champions decentralisation and markets. The federal government has negotiated prices with all vaccine manufacturers and allocates vaccine supplies directly to not just state governments but also major private entities such as hospitals and pharmacies that administer vaccines.

The issue becomes especially relevant if vaccine availability lags and we are able to achieve a pace of no more than 150 million jabs per month on a sustained basis. With two jabs per person needed, it would then take us one full year to vaccinate above-18 population, which is approximately 65% of the total population. Minimisation of damage from Covid-19 waves during that one year would require prioritising regions that fall victim to those waves.

A rough and ready analysis of district-level data shows that our current vaccination strategy has done a poor job of prioritisation. As on April 21, 2021, top 40 districts by the number of active cases accounted for 52% of the cases but received only 21% of all jabs. Arvalli district in Gujarat with 397 active cases administered 2,70,000 vaccine shots while Latur district in Maharashtra with 16,732 active cases administered 2,10,000 shots.

An unintended consequence of recent decentralisation has been that the decision-making power for the allocation of 50% vaccine supply has been passed on to manufacturers. Until July, this means principally one manufacturer who has gone on to announce that he would give the bulk of this supply to Maharashtra, his home state. Even if Maharashtra happens to be the state with most infections at the moment, such allocation is scarcely in the best public interest nationwide.

It is likely that the government announced the decentralisation policy as a response to a barrage of ill-informed criticisms. But it is something that requires a rethink once the current crisis abates. As a rule, policy reversals should be avoided to minimise uncertainty but when too much of public interest is at stake, course correction must be done. To blunt potential allegations of politicisation of allocations, the government may delegate the authority to an independent group of professionals.

Last but not the least, nothing that the government does can compensate for dereliction of duty by citizens. Given how aggressive and unpredictable this virus is, the only surefire protection from it is keeping out of its path.  And that means minimising outside movement and wearing masks when stepping out. Even as we assert our rights and blame the government for every single ill we suffer, we must introspect on whether we have been discharging our own civic duty.

Courtesy - TOI


Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Everyone’s war (The Indian Express)

Written by Raghu Raman

The mindspace of every citizen is seized with the pandemic in their professional and personal remits. Bureaucrats, administrators and political leaders are occupied coordinating resources and few have the bandwidth to focus on the socio-economic onslaught that is yet to come. But this fog of chaos must not obscure the strategic dangers looming over the horizon.

There has always been a stark imbalance between the law and order situation in India and government’s wherewithal to address the same. This pandemic will wreck the already fragile equilibrium between order and disorder. It is only a matter of time before desperation drives the have-nots to express their anger and frustration unlawfully. Already, petty theft and crimes are escalating. Reports of looting lifesaving resources by citizens signal signs of a breakdown. The problem will be exacerbated because of depletion of police forces and their distraction from regular policing and administrative activities. Once this imbalance begins, the slippery slope can end in civil unrest quickly.

The relationship between order and disorder in a society is delicate. Governance is based on covenants promising solace to law-abiding citizens and retribution to law breakers. No government can govern without this pact because even the strongest has less than 10 million armed forces and police personnel to address national security and law and order for 1.3 billion people. Also, our security forces, like our health, hygiene and other frontline workers are not an inexhaustible or an untiring resource.

Consider the security personnel, for example. India has about 1.5 million personnel in its armed forces who are already under heavy commitment in our western and eastern fronts. Additional troops have been pinned down in Kashmir since the abrogation of Article 370. The situation of Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) is probably worse. They have been shunted around the country chasing one assignment after another with no respite, leave or downtime. And because of the exposure in their work, state police personnel have been ravaged with a disproportionate percentage of COVID cases. The efficacy of these organisations will further diminish when their (already understaffed and overworked) strategic and operational leaders start succumbing. There is simply no capacity to spare if the security or the law and order situation starts to deteriorate.

Bereaved, afraid and frustrated citizens transform into angry mobs mercurially. Millions of citizens have been pushed into poverty adding to abject inequity. Even as the middle class is struggling for air and medicines, millions of poor are compelled to migrate yet again because they face starvation in addition to COVID. As James Baldwin pointed out, the most dangerous creation of any society are people who have nothing more to lose. No covenant of governance can hold if the majority feel crushed by inequitable treatment, they will hit back. It might feel safe and insulated inside the gated communities but opulence cannot withstand the rage of the deprived for long.

If we are waging a war against the pandemic then we must remember that war is too important a business to be left to generals or for that matter politicians. The pandemic is arguably the biggest crisis faced by our nation. And the only silver lining in a national crisis is that common citizens take it upon themselves to assist each other and contribute to the war effort — as witnessed in the first migration of workers when hundreds of volunteer groups helped total strangers. While the government may formulate macro-level policies like imports of oxygen and medicines, it’s the sheer selfless energy and ingenuity of ordinary citizens which provides last-mile connectivity and succour to the suffering. And that is where the battle to take back control from the pandemic must begin.

India’s haves must open their coffers in direct action to help the have-nots. The new vaccination policy offers an opportunity for every individual to assist those less privileged by paying for their dosages, thus relieving pressure on the state resources needed for millions more. Rich corporates, religious and quasi-religious entities must open their reserves and put cash in the hands of the lowest strata using instruments like salary advances, interest-free loans and donations. Institutions like the NCC and volunteer students must be trained in first-response treatments on a mission-mode timeline. Idle capacity, like private buses, private aircrafts and unoccupied buildings, must be commandeered for the war effort. Retired personnel from the armed forces, civil and allied services should be recalled to augment administrative bandwidth especially at headquarters.

If the COVID onslaught were to be compared to a type of war, it would be what the army calls FIBUA, or fighting in built-up areas. These kinds of operations are not won by overwhelming weaponry or resource superiority. Instead, they are fought doggedly, street to street, house to house and room to room, until control is wrested back from the enemy. So, instead of waiting for some overarching silver strategy, we need to fight the pandemic with thousands of imaginative ideas and small operations to defeat it at the local level. This is indeed every man’s war.

 The writer is founding CEO, NATGRID.

Courtesy - The Indian Express.


Remedy/ Pitfall: It’s in reliable data that we have the most important tool to safeguard public health (TOI)

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.

The outbreak of the global pandemic last year turned the spotlight on an arcane field, applied epidemiology. It provides a guide to decision-making in a world of patchy data. The situation has changed quite a bit since then. There is a lot more knowledge about the SARS-CoV-2 virus. This rapidly growing bank of knowledge complemented by the arrival of vaccines puts all countries on a sounder footing. But the key assumption here is that governments have the right approach to data. Both in terms of collection, the first step, and its subsequent analysis.

Right from the first wave of Covid-19, the world has struggled to capture accurate data. Reasons are many, including lack of resources, social stigma forcing patients to withhold information, and political incentives which favour data suppression. In India, it was clear from the beginning that testing for Covid-19 across states, both in terms of quality and quantity, varied. Large serosurveys carried out by ICMR indicated that the presence of antibodies in the population far exceeded what the test results showed. Its survey carried out over December-January showed that 21% of Indians were exposed to Covid.

Key elements in putting data to good use are its interpretation and the right political incentives. There was nothing in the data to conclusively say that we had reached herd immunity or dealt with the challenge. In another serious shortcoming, it was as late as December that the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG), a network of 10 labs to monitor genomic changes of SARS-CoV-2, was set up. And it’s still not fulfilling its potential. For example, the B.1.617 variant appears to have played a big role in Maharashtra’s surge but not enough samples have been sequenced and policy response is lagging.

One reason why policy response is inadequate is that political incentives to fudge data are high. There is a clear mismatch between official data on Covid deaths and the reportage across cities over the last few weeks. Under-reporting of crucial data leaves governments ill-equipped to respond. Epidemiology’s usefulness is influenced by the quality of data that can be used. When the data doesn’t capture reality, by design or otherwise, we will be caught napping. It’s important to remember that with a pathogen that is highly infectious, there may not be an endgame. Instead, tools such as reliable data limit its adverse impact, or further waves. So they must be kept sharp, and used smartly.

Courtesy - TOI


The crisis that’s coming: Soon we will run out of skilled personnel to treat Covid. Here’s how to tackle this (TOI)

“Patients are dying in ICU because there are no nurses and doctors” is going to be the headline news after we address the oxygen shortage. Based on data from the first Covid wave, positivity rate should remain at 25-30% for the next 3-4 months. Every day over 3 lakh people are testing positive. Statistically, for every positive patient, there will be at least five more patients who are positive but not tested.

That means at least 15 lakh people are getting infected every day. Assuming that 5% of them may need ICU care, we will be adding about 75,000 ICU patients every day, who need to stay in the ICU for about ten days. Unfortunately, we only have 75,000-95,000 ICU beds, which were full even before the pandemic reached the peak. Today, our own intensivists aren’t sure whether they will get a bed in the same ICU where they’re working if they get infected.

Unlike the first wave, ICUs today are getting filled with younger patients. So most of the patients who die are going to be young breadwinners of the family, with devastating social implications.

We need to add 5 lakh new ICU beds in a few days to prevent this calamity. Any bed with central oxygen in a government or private hospital can be converted to an ICU bed with a few accessories, which can be procured easily.

Unfortunately, beds do not treat patients. Doctors, nurses and paramedics do. Well before Covid, shortage of medical specialists in government hospitals was 76%. Most of the government hospitals’ ICUs are suboptimal and Covid patients end up in short-staffed private hospitals. Frontline workers who did a phenomenal job during the first wave are tired and exhausted. We need a few lakh young, skilled and vaccinated nurses, paramedics and doctors to win the battle.

India is the only country in the world that can produce a few lakh young Covid frontline workers in a few days, just by changing the regulations.

The greatest bottleneck in expanding ICUs is the shortage of nurses. There are about 2.2 lakh nursing students who finished GNM or BSc training, just waiting for the exam. The nursing and ICU serving paramedical students should be exempted from appearing for the exam to graduate and given preference for future government jobs, provided they work in a Covid ICU for one year. Most students would love to take up this offer.

The second greatest hurdle is the availability of specialist doctors. Over 25,000 young doctors are about to finish training in various medical and surgical specialties. NBE or NMC should exempt them and the ones who failed in past exams and offer a degree if they work in Covid ICU for one year.

There are a few thousand medical specialists with diplomas in critical specialties like intensive care cardiology or emergency medicine who aren’t recognised by the Medical Council. If the NMC recognises these diplomas, we should get thousands of motivated and skilled medical specialists to manage Covid ICUs across the country.

Over 1.3 lakh young doctors are sitting at home memorising multiple choice questions to secure a PG seat through NEET exam. Since there are only 35,000 PG seats in clinical subjects, there will be over a lakh doctors who will be unsuccessful in securing a PG seat. They can be offered grace marks for the next NEET exam, provided they work in a Covid ICU for one year.

In addition, there are at least 20,000 doctors who graduated from overseas universities and are unable to pass the Indian entrance exam. They can practise as doctors in other countries except their country of birth. These doctors can be given medical council registration in exchange for working in a Covid ICU.

All the doctors who I am suggesting to be exempted from the final exam are already qualified doctors with the ability to practise medicine. In the United States, postgraduate resident doctors do not need to even appear for a final exam. They are recognised as board eligible and allowed to practise.

A Covid ICU is the worst place to work with PPE. We rarely encounter a situation wherein we need to be thinking about our lives first before saving the patient’s life. No monetary incentive can make one work in the Covid ICU for months together. We need to give young nurses and doctors a life-changing gift to face the battle.

Let’s be practical and accept that whatever we are doing currently inside the hospital to increase ICU beds is not working. That’s the reason why today private hospitals are not providing ICU beds even for millionaires.

We belong to an amazing country that can solve life-threatening challenges in remarkable fashion. We started the war against Covid with virtually no PPEs and very few ventilators. In a few weeks we produced enough PPEs and ventilators to become a net exporter.

Today the entire country is gasping for breath due to lack of oxygen. Thanks to the generosity of the industries and the government’s interventions, the oxygen shortage will get solved shortly. We have a tiny window of opportunity to address the manpower crisis and prevent one of the greatest human tragedies.

We have no doubt that our government under the able leadership of PM Modi can convert any catastrophe into an opportunity to save precious lives.

Courtesy - TOI


Saturday, April 24, 2021

Step up, America: Reform your vaccine policy to help the world (TOI)

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.

On February 4, US President Joe Biden delivered a speech to situate his country’s place in the world. America is back and will engage with the world to meet challenges of today and tomorrow, he said. It’s time for him to redeem his pledge in the fight against Covid-19. The US has set an impressive pace in vaccinating its people over the last three months. It’s fully vaccinated around 35% of its adult population and about 52% have received at least one dose. Its supply pipeline is adequate to vaccinate every willing adult in a month.

In this backdrop, two aspects are jarring. Last week, more than 5.2 million cases were reported globally, the most in a single week so far. Concurrently, the US is holding on to a stockpile of vaccines that it no longer needs. AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine hasn’t even been cleared by the US regulator. Yet, the country has a reserve of reportedly 20 million doses, with more in the pipeline. Those vaccines need to be used immediately in countries facing a surge. It’s not right to hoard them when just a handful of countries have consumed most of the 800 odd million doses used so far.

Second, the US has used a wartime measure, Defence Production Act, to disrupt the vaccine supply chain by preventing exports of crucial ingredients. India’s Serum Institute’s collaboration with Novavax is a victim of it. The US doesn’t face a crisis today. The DPA needs to be withdrawn. Finally, the effort at WTO by India and South Africa, among others, to dilute the stringency of intellectual property rules for the Covid-19 fight needs consideration. After all, compulsory licensing in an emergency is a WTO-compliant provision. America’s strategic interests can’t be divorced from its pandemic response globally and humanely.

Courtesy - TOI


The pushback against China: Now, the European Union has released its own Indo-Pacific strategy too (TOI)

Harsh Pant

The writer is Director, Studies at Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi and Professor of International Relations at King’s College, London.

Till a few months back, China’s rise was taken as a given. It still is in many ways. China is a rising economic and political power and it’s pointless to talk about preventing that from happening. But how China rises can certainly be managed so that it causes least disruption in the global order.

The disorder ushered in by Covid-19 has underlined to the world the costs of giving China a free pass. And in response, the world has galvanised. Pushback against China has been manifesting itself in multiple ways. In particular, regional players have been pursuing more coordinated actions so as to create a more stable balance of power.

This pushback has also emerged in the context of the BRI, the signature vanity project of Chinese President Xi Jinping. This week saw the federal government of Australia using new powers to cancel two deals made between the state of Victoria and China related to the BRI. While Canberra argued that the move was essential to protect Australia’s national interest, Beijing made it clear that the action by Canberra was “bound to bring further damage to bilateral relations, and will only end up hurting itself”.

A new front has been added to an already strained Australia-China relationship ever since Australia demanded an investigation into the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic last year. At the other end of the spectrum, China was targeted in a different way when a bomb explosion at a luxury hotel in the Pakistani city of Quetta, the capital of Balochistan province, ended up killing five people and wounding several others.

China’s ambassador who was visiting the region was ostensibly the target of this attack by the Pakistani Taliban, who claimed responsibility. Tensions have been rising in Balochistan, where China and Pakistani government are viewed as culprits for exploiting one of the country’s poorest regions for its natural resources.

The BRI is facing challenges at a time when the Indo-Pacific narrative is getting well-established across the world. The EU released its Indo-Pacific strategy which aims for “regional stability, security, prosperity, and sustainable development” at a time of great regional flux and turmoil.

Arguing that its approach and engagement will look to foster a rules-based international order, a level playing field as well as an open and fair environment for trade and investment, reciprocity, the strengthening of resilience and tackling climate change, the EU strategy calls upon the 27 nation grouping “to work together with its partners in the Indo-Pacific on these issues of common interest”.

After ignoring the Indo-Pacific construct for years, the EU seems to have finally realised the need to imbibe it within its own strategic framework as it seeks a new global role for itself as a geopolitical actor. Individual member states such as France, Germany and even the Netherlands have already taken the plunge and so the EU had to respond to the evolving geopolitical realities.

From Europe and the US all the way to the Asean and Oceania, Indo-Pacific is the new geostrategic reality which cannot be ignored. China employed its entire might in trying to discredit the narrative, and yet it has turned out to be one of most significant diplomatic failures of Beijing that it could not prevent the ideational rise and operational establishment of the new maritime geography.

Today, China is left with only Russian support on this issue while much of the rest of the world has moved on. And India’s role has been central in making the idea of Indo-Pacific a reality. Much as New Delhi’s reservations on BRI are now the standard template for responding to the project around the world, without New Delhi’s persistence and active engagement in shoring up the viability of the Indo-Pacific, the idea would have found it difficult to move beyond academic discourse.

And this effort continues with the external affairs minister S Jaishankar recently again underlining that the Indo-Pacific refers to a seamless world which was historically present in the form of Indian-Arab economic-trading ties and cultural influences from Asean nations like Vietnam and the east coast of China. In this context, “the Indo-Pacific is a return to history” and “is actually the overcoming of the Cold War and not reinforcing it”.

The more China has pushed its belligerent agenda on regional states, the more pushback it has begun to face. The BRI is confronted with multiple fault lines; the Indo-Pacific geography is now more well-established than ever; the Quad has been resurrected; and various regional players are beginning to engage with each other much more cohesively.

Power is as much about a nation’s innate capabilities as it is about its ability to make others accept its leadership. China has certainly risen in the last decade but it has not succeeded in making others accept its claim for even regional – forget global – leadership.

And India’s ability to stand steadfast vis-à-vis China across multiple fronts has given other nations greater confidence in their ability to shape Chinese behaviour. It may or may not work in the end in rationalising China’s role. But it will certainly force the Chinese Communist Party to rethink some of the assumptions underlying their policy preferences.

Courtesy - TOI


Saturday, April 17, 2021

New particles, new physics: An experiment at Fermilab points to undiscovered forms of matter and energy lurking in the universe (TOI)

Saswato R Das

The author is a science and technology writer.

There might be dozens of undiscovered subatomic particles in the universe, and new physics might be lurking around the corner, if the results of a recent scientific experiment, conducted at Fermilab in the US, are correct. An international team of 200 particle physicists spread among seven countries made the announcement earlier this month, immediately setting the world of physics abuzz.

Graziano Venanzoni, one of the leaders of the experiment and a physicist at the Italian National Institute for Nuclear Physics, underscored the importance of the experiment in a suitably grandiose manner, calling the day of the announcement, “An extraordinary day, long awaited not only by us but by the whole international physics community.”

The team had observed that a particle called a muon – a heavier cousin of the electron that carries electricity – was not behaving as predicted in the presence of a magnetic field. Muons occur in nature when cosmic rays strike Earth’s atmosphere, and particle accelerators at Fermilab produce them in large numbers. Like electrons, muons act as if they have a tiny internal magnet.

In a strong magnetic field, the direction of the muon’s magnet wobbles, much like the axis of a spinning top or gyroscope. At the Fermilab experiment, the muon was wobbling too much – in a manner inconsistent with the so-called Standard Model, the highly successful theory of physics that describes the subatomic world.

An experiment at Brookhaven National Lab had seen something similar 20 years ago, but physicists hadn’t been sure that the results were statistically valid. So they had decided to repeat it with more precision.

And the muons seemed to be wobbling too much again, implying some unknown particles and forces were giving them an extra push. The Fermilab team calculated that their measurements have about one chance in 40,000 of being wrong. The Standard Model has held sway for 50 years, even though everyone agrees it is incomplete. Is it goodbye to all that?

“Something is missing in the Standard Model,” said William Morse, an experimental particle physicist at Brookhaven National Laboratory who had been part of the team that had seen the muons misbehave 20 years ago.  “We wouldn’t be here if the Standard Model were right and complete.”

He was hinting at the fact that, while we see observational evidence of the Big Bang that created the universe, the Standard Model cannot account for the presence of stars and galaxies in the universe.

Another discrepancy is the presence of dark matter, which our telescopes cannot see but which we know is there from its gravitational footprint. The Standard Model doesn’t account for the large discrepancy of matter over antimatter in the universe – matter and antimatter are supposed to annihilate when they come together; antimatter is one of the predictions of the Standard Model.

So, if the Standard Model is incomplete, what could be going on? An explanation of the increased muon wobbling could be a theory called supersymmetry, says Morse, which, if true, would double the number of elementary particles. “Every known particle would have a supersymmetric partner … Supersymmetry could also give you a universe you could live in.”

There are a few different versions of supersymmetry, but what they share in common is that these partner particles would be heavier than the ones in the Standard Model. The Large Hadron Collider, the best particle smasher in the world that was built a few years ago in Geneva by CERN, was supposed to have found supersymmetric particles but hasn’t seen any so far.

This leads some to question if it is the right explanation. William Marciano, a theorist at Brookhaven, put it this way, “Supersymmetry has a good theoretical framework, and has the potential to explain dark matter, but its star has dimmed.”

Many theorists urged caution before throwing out the Standard Model. Marciano suggested that if there is indeed an excess wobble in the muon due to new physics, it may affect other things such as the magnetic moment of an electron. “If the muon is showing an effect due to new physics, the electron may also show a small effect,” he said. An experiment to determine the magnetic moment of the electron more precisely is being pursued.

Zoltan Fodor at Penn State is another theorist who disagrees with the implications of the Fermilab paper. He has done a theoretical simulation of how much the muon’s wobble should be using a different technique that called for hundreds of hours of supercomputer time. “There is no new physics,” he stressed.

The story is far from over. The Fermilab team is continuing its experiments with muons, having only analysed 6% of the data the experiment will eventually collect. The team is hoping that it might find more evidence that will lead to the overthrow of the Standard Model and herald a universe teeming with more elementary particles. If that happens, the Standard Model will follow many other previous theories that have fallen to the wayside in the inexorable march of science.

Courtesy - TOI


Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Confusing signals: Expanding India’s basket of vaccines is smart rethink. Stop unmasked mass gatherings next (TOI)

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.

Centre’s decision to fast track approvals for vaccines used in other countries is a welcome rethink that recognises the sheer magnitude of the surging second Covid wave. Official rethink must also apply to two events that are hugely violating Covid appropriate norms and spreading this dangerous infection of indifference all across the country: Kumbh Mela and the Bengal assembly elections. This would call for suspending mass congregations be they religious or political. Until then, the thronging of lakhs of unmasked people at Haridwar’s bathing ghats and Bengal’s maidans reflects policy incoherence, which in turn muddles citizens’ behaviour.

These project a sense of normalcy when the reality across many cities is of healthcare workers at their wits’ end. Netas and cadres, sadhus and devotees, appearing shorn of mask and Covid concerns on the largest political and religious stages, defeat the hard work of everyone else, especially healthcare and frontline workers, to keep lives and livelihoods afloat. As was predicted, norms set for the Kumbh Mela like checking for Covid negative certificates have fallen by the wayside in the crush of millions. Of course, even the pretence of safe oversight has been missing in the various assembly elections. With UP preparing for panchayat polls, heed the lesson from Bengal there, and let it not be business as usual.

As people disperse from Uttarakhand to hundreds of cities, towns and villages, disease surveillance will also fail. Meanwhile visuals from Gujarat, MP and Chhattisgarh of bodies piling up at mortuaries and crematoria are a warning to everyone to mask up and vaccinate. But instead of helping mobilise more beds with oxygen support in local hospitals, promoting safe Covid behaviour etc, many netas are demanding VIP medical treatment according to doctors’ associations.

Ever since Covaxin’s approval without passing Phase 3 trials, there has been a reasonable demand in India to allow vaccines that have passed Phase 3 trials in other countries to find a market here. Now that the demand has been heard, a war footing effort by making advance payments to vaccine companies and easing bottlenecks in securing ingredients and components must proceed. Plus, governments must get their messaging right. Netas can’t push curfews at night and be seen unmasked and politicking in the morning. Universal masking in public is the fastest way to beat this wave: Let’s embrace the power of collective behaviour change and mask like East Asian countries.

Courtesy - TOI


Saturday, April 10, 2021

Heed the exodus: Lockdown hypocrisies are brutal to migrant workers (TOI)

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.

Officials must note the flight of migrant workers from cities where mobility curbs have been imposed. This signals another round of acute economic distress unless irrational curbs that do little to stop Covid aren’t dismantled. Unlike last year’s massive exodus following the nationwide lockdown announcement, the current outpouring is smaller. But it’s incumbent upon governments to closely monitor the situation and prevent a replay. Workplace closures render poor migrant workers’ continuance in cities untenable. With trust quotient already running low, misinformation among them could also be rife.

In the name of suppressing Covid, economic activity is getting stigmatised even as political gatherings get a free pass. States like Tamil Nadu and Kerala have announced tighter restrictions just after elections in which leading politicians and their party workers roamed the land unmasked. EC’s eight-phase Bengal election seems another unmitigated disaster. Ordinary people must now pay the price for irresponsible politicking. Another double standard is allowing large, crowded, unmasked religious congregations while the economy is treated as dispensable.

Prioritisation of politicking and religion over livelihoods, without the luxury of the liberal stimulus cheques that accompany lockdowns in the West or massive vaccine outreach, is cruel and irrational. The migrant worker is the first casualty; the middle class and businesses will follow too if “corona curfews” continue. A Niti Aayog draft national policy on migrant workers, after last year’s bitter experience, emphasised approaches to integrate them into social and official consciousness. Despite contributing immensely in states where they earn livelihoods and send remittances to, migrants get scarce political recognition or social support nets at either end. Lockdowns are a new affront to their self-worth. Fight the Covid second wave through masking, testing, vaccinating and ramping up critical care facilities, instead of trampling upon the dignity of labour.
Courtesy - TOI

Friday, April 9, 2021

Myanmar junta isn’t fated to win: As the military cracks down fiercely on democratic forces, Delhi has many options (TOI)

Subir Bhaumik

Subir Bhaumik is a veteran BBC journalist and analyst of eastern and northeastern India

The peaceful protests against Myanmar’s February 1 military takeover are seemingly ebbing. The number of demonstrators hitting the streets in major townships like Yangon and Mandalay are coming down.  One would expect that to happen because the military junta has been ruthless in response, with nearly 600 deaths reported in indiscriminate firings so far.

That may not be anywhere near the kind of casualty figure witnessed in 1988, when thousands were mown down by gunfire in Yangon and Mandalay in a few hours, but it’s good enough to scare people off the streets.The drop in the intensity of public agitation doesn’t mean, however, that the movement has petered out.

Far from it, the agitation against the military junta has spread. State railway workers have continued their strike despite police crackdown. Three quarters of the country’s civil servants have been on strike, all private banks are closed and the protests have weakened the economy significantly. The Buddhist clergy is divided, unlike during the 2007 Saffron Revolution, but the younger elements in it have joined the protests.

Those leading the agitation are looking up to the international community to act. However, an increasingly powerful section within the pro-democracy movement is moving towards armed action.  The formation of the ‘Federal Army’ somewhere in Yangon, by drawing on the younger hardliners, points to efforts by some in the movement to raise the cost of military intervention.

‘Federal Army’ leaders are drawn primarily from the younger elements – college and university students, workers and white-collar professionals — who are angered by the harsh military response and feel they need to hit back. Most are from the neighbourhood resistance committees, some from college and workers’ unions.

This writer is privy to the first meeting at a north Yangon township where the Federal Army was born on March 11. The leaders planned targeted killings – military informers responsible for guiding night raids in the neighbourhoods to cripple the movement, military commanders and members of their families, political associates of the junta leaders. At the moment, nearly 200 activists of this new outfit are undergoing training in bases of some ethnic rebel armies, who welcome this as an opportunity.

This is not a new trend. In 1998 ethnic Bamar students and youths fled to Karen rebel camps on the Thai-Myanmar border in large numbers, received combat training and inducted weapons, when the announcement of elections by the SLORC military junta led to a rethink among the hardliners who decided to give the elections a try.

The military has announced it will hold elections within a year, but its decision not to honour the November 2020 election verdict is keeping the embers of protest burning. Protestors have a new target this time – China. Convinced that the Tatmadaw received full backing from China to go ahead with the February military takeover, protestors in Yangon and elsewhere have targeted factories and business establishments financed by Chinese companies.

This may be a reflection of public anger over a growing narrative that China is a new neo-colonialist in Myanmar (and elsewhere in Asia and Africa), conspiring to take away its huge mineral resources, precious stones, hydrocarbons and much else — for which they need a military totally dependent on them and isolated from the rest of the world. But some among the pro-democracy leadership, both NLD and ‘Federal Army’ types, feel targeting Chinese interests may force Beijing to put pressure on the Tatmadaw to step down and return the country to parliamentary democracy.

There’s a precedent that such a course of action may work. In 2008-10, fierce and coordinated resistance in the Kachin state and elsewhere in Myanmar forced the quasi-military government of President (former General) Thein Sein to cancel the $6 billion, 6000MW Myitsone dam project. Kachin insurgents, church, tribal elders and civil society raised the pitch of their resistance to the project. Mainstream Burmese civil society joined the movement because the Irrawaddy  – formed by the two rivers at whose confluence the Myitsone Dam was planned – is the backbone of the country’s agrarian economy and a sharp drop in hydrological flow in it may adversely impact the country’s agriculture.

Western anti-dam and human rights groups joined the pitch against Myitsone, having failed to stop China’s Three Gorges Dam earlier in the decade. Beijing’s determined push to resume the Myitsone project by Beijing hasn’t worked. Suu Kyi’s government also scaled down the investment size of the China-financed Kyaukphyu deep sea port and SEZ project, raising alarms in Beijing over the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor project.  After the Sri Lankan government long-leased away the Hambantota port and some other China-financed projects because of unsustainable debt burden, opposition parties in Malaysia and even China’s surrogate Cambodia have railed against Chinese projects because they fear a Chinese takeover of the economy if local government are compelled to pawn away crucial infrastructure projects.

Many in Myanmar’s democracy movement realise Chinese vulnerabilities and are determined to pressure Beijing by ‘political acupunture’ – pressing where it hurts. With India increasingly giving up inhibitions in criticising the military takeover, the anti-China pitch after the military takeover may open new opportunities for Indian business.

But to gain from China’s discomfiture, India will have to shed its ambivalence advocated by sections among our military and diplomatic higher echelons, and behave like the decisive regional power that PM Modi wants it to be. A country becomes a power if it thinks and acts like one.

Courtesy - TOI

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