Editorials - 13-04-2021

L’affaire Lakshadweep shows not a betrayal by the U.S. but a different understanding of navigational freedom

India’s strategic community was agitated last week when theUSS John Paul Jonescarried out a freedom of navigation operation (FONOP) 130 nautical miles west of the Lakshadweep Islands. Indian observers reacted with shock and dismay at what some described as an unnecessary provocation by the U.S. Navy. The disquiet in Delhi was heightened by an unusual press release by the Commander, U.S. 7th Fleet, that said the operation, which was carried out in India’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), “asserted navigational rights and freedoms... without requesting India’s prior consent”. Many saw this as political signalling by the U.S., oddly, at a time when U.S.-India relations are on a high.

Different interpretations

In the aftermath of the incident, the U.S. Pentagon defended the military operation off India’s waters terming it “consistent with international law”. For the U.S. Navy, FONOPs are a way of showing that the maritime claims of certain states are incompatible with international law. India’s requirement of prior consent for the passage of foreign warships through Indian EEZs, U.S. officials believe, is a violation of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Articles 56 and 58,Part V of the Law of the Sea, they point out, entitle U.S. warships to high-seas freedoms in the 200-nautical mile EEZs of another coastal state.

India interprets the maritime convention differently. Indian experts note that the UNCLOS does not explicitly permit the passage of military vessels in another state’s EEZ. When it ratified the convention in 1995, New Delhi stated, “India understands that the provisions of the Convention do not authorize other States to carry out in the exclusive economic zone and on the continental shelf military exercises or manoeuvres, in particular those involving the use of weapons or explosives without the consent of the coastal State.” This position is consistent with India’s domestic law — the Territorial Waters, Continental Shelf, Exclusive Economic Zone and Other Maritime Zones of India Act of 1976 — and remains unchanged.

Despite disagreements over navigational freedoms, however, India and the U.S. have refrained from a public airing of differences. Indian observers have come to accept U.S. FONOPs as an instrument in Washington’s military and diplomatic toolkit that gives the U.S. Navy leverage in the contest with China in the South China Sea. U.S. officials, too, have learnt to take Indian posturing in their stride. Washington knows New Delhi’s real concern is the possibility of greater Chinese naval presence in Indian waters, in particular the threat of People’s Liberation Army Navy submarines near Indian islands. Delhi’s pronouncements on foreign military activity in Indian EEZs, they know, don’t need to be taken literally.

Needless to say, U.S. FONOPs in Indian EEZs have been relatively low key, serving mainly to check a box on the U.S. Navy’s record of activity in Asia. Since 2016, the U.S. Navy has carried out three forays through Indian EEZs keeping well outside Indian territorial waters. In contrast, U.S. warships challenged excessive Chinese claims thrice in 2016, four times in 2017, six in 2018, eight in 2019, and nine in 2020. Most patrols are said to have come within 12 nautical miles of the territorial sea limit around China’s islands. Those statistics say something about the U.S. Navy’s strategic priorities in Asia.

Lakshadweep: A smart choice

The choice of Lakshadweep for the FONOP doesn’t seem incidental. U.S. planners are likely to have known that a U.S. naval foray close to the ‘strategic’ Andaman and Nicobar Islands would be controversial. Besides necessitating a response from New Delhi, it could have exposed a wrinkle in the relationship that both sides have so far been discreet about: the disagreement over interpretation of the UNCLOS. U.S. planners are likely to have calculated that a naval operation in the waters off Lakshadweep would be unremarkable. With maritime boundaries around the Lakshadweep more settled than the Andaman and Nicobar Islands (where straight baselines on the Western edge of the islands have in the past raised uncomfortable questions), Indian officials could even afford to ignore the operation.

To guard against any misreading of intent, the U.S. Navy coupled its FONOP in Indian waters with another sail through the territorial seas of the Maldives, a country with which the U.S. signed a defence agreement in 2020. The idea, ostensibly, was to signal to China that the U.S. Navy is committed to uphold the rules-based order in the waters of opponents and partners alike. Alas, the U.S. 7th Fleet erred in releasing a press statement that set the issue ablaze. Once social media picked up the story, it took on a life of its own.

Bridging the divide

There are lessons for both India and the U.S. from l’affaire Lakshadweep. The U.S. must recognise that FONOPs have implications for New Delhi that go beyond the infringement of Indian jurisdiction in the near seas. Such operations normalise military activism close to India’s island territories that remain vulnerable to incursions by foreign warships. The U.S. Navy’s emphasis on navigational freedoms in the EEZs encourages other regional navies to violate India’s domestic regulations in the waters surrounding the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. U.S. hectoring on the subject isn’t acceptable as Washington is yet to ratify the UNCLOS.

But New Delhi, too, must rethink its stand on freedom of navigation in the EEZs. It isn’t enough for Indian officials and commentators to say U.S. FONOPs are an act of impropriety. The reality is that India’s domestic regulation is worryingly out of sync with international law. India’s declaration of straight baselines delineating zones around the Andaman and Nicobar Islands (on the Western edge), in particular, is a discrepancy that cannot be explained as a minor departure from the provisions of the UNCLOS.

The U.S. Navy sail through the waters off Lakshadweep highlights a gap in the Indian and American perception of navigational freedoms, complicating an already complex domain of international maritime law. Yet it is not the betrayal of a friend that many have sought to portray the FONOP to be.

Abhijit Singh is a former naval officer and a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi

Control has to be quick and the damage being caused contained as the pandemic has resurfaced in a fully open society

“The virus has gone.” That was in January 2021. “No, it hasn’t. It is back with more family members to attack us with greater force.” This is in April 2021. These scene changes are akin to what happens in village feuds or urban brawls that feature in news reports across India. While leaders are debating whether India is experiencing a second wave or Delhi is experiencing a fourth wave, the virus is spreading rapidly across the country, helped by the more infectious variants that arrived from abroad or emerged at home as a ‘double mutant’.

Changes, a year on

There are several differences from the pandemic which we experienced in 2020, both in its spread and in our response. The virus affected relatively small numbers by March 2020, by the time the lockdown was announced. The long nationwide lockdown gave governments across the land time to strengthen the health system capacity, streamline administrative coordination, power up procurement and production processes for essential equipment and supplies, educate people on the dangers posed by the virus and advise personal protection measures that needed to be adopted. Release from the lockdown was phased, limiting transmission even as society gradually opened up. Large cities and neighbouring districts were more affected, with urban crowding and mobility driving the transmission. Rural areas and less developed States were mostly protected. This time, the pandemic has resurfaced in a fully open society. There was unrestricted movement, markets were crowded, domestic and international travel was brisk, election campaigns were boisterously run for local bodies and assemblies, religious gatherings received state support and cricket matches were celebrated as a joyful advertisement of return to normalcy as rest of the world was still struggling with the pandemic. Masks were mandated notionally and the public decided to follow the leaders and celebrities who disdained to wear them in public. The virus had an open road for its travel, with only the welcome arches missing.

We now need to proceed beyond reflections and remonstration on what went wrong, to design and deliver a resolute response that can help us to rapidly regain control and limit the damage. This has to incorporate several strategic components, cohesively connected and collectively implemented, to have a sustained impact. They are:

First step is decentralisation

Decentralise the response to district level. Knowledge of existing and evolving local conditions matters, for the design and the delivery of an effective response. Local data gathering and analysis provide real time intelligence for rapid response. Local community networks are important channels for information dissemination and for partnering the administration in implementation. We need consultative policymaking at the national level, inter-departmental planning at the State level. and data-driven decentralised decision making for situation adaptive implementation at the district level. The district collector must coordinate health-care services across all facilities in the district and be empowered to commandeer hospitals, hotels and transport facilities as needed.

Prevent super spreader events and mandate masks. Testing numbers are again being projected as the best measure of an efficient and effective response. This is incorrect. While tests are indeed an important component of the strategy, we cannot test asymptomatically infected persons and mildly symptomatic persons who do not report themselves. These constitute a very large number at any time, as we know from antibody surveys. We cannot randomly and repeatedly test large proportions of the population to detect virus presence in such potentially infective persons. Masks, if worn well and regularly in public and even in indoor gatherings, will greatly reduce risk of transmission from any infected person, known or unknown. Even the more infectious variants will be blocked by effective masks, even where physical distancing is not possible.

Stop the events

What is absolutely essential is preventing super spreader events. Crowding, whether indoor or outdoor, offers the virus an opportunity to seed itself among many exposed persons who then carry it elsewhere to perpetuate the chain of transmission. There should be a ban on large gatherings, for at least the next eight weeks. Travel restrictions too must be imposed during this period. The notion that all of India has acquired or will soon acquire herd immunity must be dispelled with clear messaging for some months to come.

Use smart testing and tracing, but case detection needs more. The past year has taught us that viral tests are useful but have limitations. A single RT-PCR test can miss between 30%-40% cases, due to limitations posed by swab collection, transport efficiency and laboratory competency apart from testing too early or too late during the infection when a replicating virus is not detectable.

We need to detect possible cases through household surveillance of symptomatic individuals by primary health-care teams supported by citizen volunteers. All suspect cases and household contacts must be tested. Positive cases must be isolated and provided home or hospital care depending on severity. Symptomatic but negative persons and household contacts should be re-tested three to five days later but wear masks and observe distance even at home till the re-test result too is negative and the infected person has recovered. Genomic analyses must be performed in at least 5% of test positive samples. Contact tracing, for persons from whom the case may have acquired the infection and to whom the case may have passed it on, needs to be conducted with speed and efficiency. Local networks help in early case detection and contact tracing. The use of just apps will not do.

Step up vaccine rollout

Speed up vaccine rollout, recognising value and limitations. The benefit of currently available vaccines is to provide protection against severe disease, not infectionper se. This information must be clearly conveyed to the public, politicians and the media so that wrong expectations of complete protection against infection do not lead to laxity in behaviour or an outcry of vaccine failure.

Given this objective, available vaccines must be prioritised for vulnerable persons. Initially, the aim must be to immunise all persons above 35 years of age and all younger persons with at-risk health disorders. We must get more vaccines quickly into the supply chain by incentivising greater production volumes of already approved vaccines and waiving the requirement of a bridging trial for domestic manufacture of vaccines approved by credible international regulators, subject to submissions of full trial data to our regulators. We must train more vaccinators for delivery closer to home, stepping up daily administration rates at more centres.

Social support is key

Involve people, not just instruct. Citizen engagement is critical for a successful pandemic response. Formal and informal networks that exist at the local level must be activated and supported to educate people and motivate them for adopting COVID-19-appropriate behaviours, symptom reporting, providing contact information and registering for vaccination, while providing social support to affected families. Masks can be produced at the State or district level, for free distribution to households by community-based organisations. People partnered public health must become the credo and lasting legacy of the COVID-19 campaign.

Provide empathetic social support. District authorities must identify vulnerable persons and families who may suffer hardships due to loss of income, shelter or incur high health-care costs. Proactive support must be provided from public financing, as state policy, even as philanthropy is mobilised to supplement. Children must be supported for education at home or in the neighbourhood, through voluntary agencies, to overcome the digital divide of online teaching. Social solidarity must become the soul of our pandemic response.

Prof. K. Srinath Reddy, a cardiologist and epidemiologist, is President, Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI). The views expressed are personal

An all-party consensus government seems the only way to break the deadlock and ensure stability

It can be said that the only constant in Nepali politics is ‘unpredictability’. Nepal’s democratic transition has been shaped through the efforts and sacrifices of common citizens and leaders and the expectation was that the forgotten Nepali would soon get something better than the discriminatory political culture that started way back in 2015 with the new Constitution and selective political manoeuvrings.

While it was time to deepen the footprints of the key institutions of democracy, Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli succeeded in making himself a bigger institution than the Constitution and Parliament. It was never possible for Mr. Oli to grow beyond a permissible stature in a functional democracy without misinterpreted nationalism, vulnerable Presidential, federal system and flawed decision-making processes.

Supported by the President Bidya Devi Bhandari, which was a surprise, Mr. Oli briskly dissolved the Lower House of the federal Parliament on December 20, 2020, which only undermined the democratic spirit and dampened the prospects of stability and equitable growth in the country even further. Even when the Supreme Court reinstated the dissolved Parliament on February 23, 2021 and disputed the legal status of Nepal Communist Party (a merged entity of Communist Party of Nepal-ML and Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist Centre), Mr. Oli continues to survive in the new age of Nepali politics where accountability is seldom seen as a virtue.

The obsession with the positioning of India and China, more so with the abolition of the monarchy, has been a survival game in Nepali politics. The tendency to raise the bogey of the “hostile” neighbour has weakened politics and has failed the idea of representing constituent interests. It would be helpful to reckon the present round of serious institutional crisis as the culmination of an accountability-free political culture and the misunderstood institutional processes — where the successes or failures of decisions are attributed to outsiders — instead of opting for probity in public life and owning the outcomes.

Constitutional provisions

Among the key factors of the ongoing political stalemate in Nepal are certain rigid constitutional provisions that have made it possible for Mr. Oli to take cover behind a shield and continue, as getting into election phase or looking for the possibility of a caretaker coalition government is a very difficult proposition. Instead of incorporating the provision of a no-confidence motion in its true spirit as a multi-party democracy, Nepal gets an unusual clause (Article 100(4)) in its new Constitution that allows a no-confidence motion only two years after the formation of the government — and even this can happen only when one fourth of the total number of existing members of the House of Representatives may table a motion of no-confidence in writing that the House has no confidence in the Prime Minister. Article 100(5) is even more perplexing which necessitates the motion of no-confidence shall also indicate the name of a member proposed for the Prime Minister.

Overcoming such arduous challenges is surely very tough for the three leading parties (Nepali Congress, Maoist Centre and Janata Samajbadi Party) seen in the race to bring the Oli government down. Even to exercise the choice of a no-confidence motion, two parties of these three have to be on the same front for getting the magical number of 68 Parliamentarians. With no consensus or ethical obligations among the wary political parties, the hiatus is likely to sustain itself.

The three major parties opposing Mr. Oli’s continuance as the Prime Minister have 142 seats in Parliament, a number that is well sufficient to end the deadlock, enter into a post-Oli era and form a new government.

However, Mr. Oli has astutely managed to outwit his political opponents both within his party and the Opposition by playing on their differences.While the Nepali Congress is facing an endemic limitation with the decision-making process, its leadership has not shown any clear temptation to explore the possibility of playing any significant role in the ongoing crucial phase in Nepali politics.

The Baburam Bhattarai-led Janata Samajbadi Party was expected to be playing an active role in coalition experiments with the Maoist Centre, Nepali Congress and Madhes-based parties, however, no such action was noticed from this camp as well. Maoist Centre Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Baburam Bhattarai and former Co-Chair with Mr. Oli in the erstwhile Nepal Communist Party formed an informal alliance with Madhav Kumar Nepal as they both wanted Mr. Oli to be unseated in the wake of his decision to dissolve the House of Representatives on December 20 and demanded his resignation. Their demands were limited only to Mr. Oli’s resignation and were not oriented toward the building of an alternate front, which gave a much needed respite to Mr. Oli.

After the Supreme Court of Nepal reinstated Parliament in February this year, it came out with the next historic verdict on March 7 in which the top court had scrapped the legal status of the ruling Nepal Communist Party. This led to a formal division in the united communist alliance, besides ensuring a split in the Dahal-Nepal faction. Mr. Nepal, along with other UML leaders loyal to him, was left with no option but to return to the old party. Mr. Dahal had to revert to his old party, the Maoist Centre, even as four of its law makers defected to Mr. Oli’s UML. Mr. Dahal has also missed taking a political step, in playing safe.

A way out

The political muddle apart, this is no time for elections, especially with a second wave of COVID-19 infections. Nepal also stares at a lack of sufficient numbers of vaccines which has left the population vulnerable. Also, good governance cannot be ensured by a government that is caught up in survivalist compulsions.

The best way forward would be in giving democracy a good chance. For now, this can be made possible by the political parties alone. They have to aspire to ensure peace, progress and stability; the easiest option would be to work towards a consensus government with all the major parties joining hands and running it collectively.

Atul K. Thakur is a policy analyst and columnist

There are several legal means that the government should employ to scale up production of COVID-19 vaccines

The precarious second wave of COVID-19 infections has hit India with greater ferocity than the first. Despite a year to prepare, we have been caught woefully off guard again. Multiple reports of the scarcity of COVID-19 vaccines and drugs have surfaced from different parts of the country. According to the Observer Research Foundation, till the end of March, India had produced 316 million doses of Covishield and Covaxin — the two COVID-19 vaccines in use in India. Of this, 64.5 million doses have been exported. This suggests that the issue isn’t vaccine production. Perhaps, the problem has more to do with centralised procurement, distribution, and coordination with different State governments and local authorities. Nonetheless, as India aims to inoculate more and more people it is imperative to ramp up vaccine production. Serum Institute of India (SII), which manufactures Covishield, has said that it can produce 100 million doses a month, up from the 50 million doses, provided it can scale up its manufacturing capacity.

We discuss some of the legal means that the government could have employed last year and should employ now to scale up the production of COVID-19 vaccines. We divide these legal means into the non-intellectual property-(IP)-based and IP-based options.

Non-IP-based solutions

Section 2 of the Epidemic Diseases Act of 1897 empowers the government, during the outbreak of an epidemic, to take measures that it may deem necessary to prevent the outbreak or its spread. Likewise, Section 26B of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940, empowers the Central government to regulate the sale, manufacture, and distribution of a drug that is essential to meet the requirements of an emergency arising due to an epidemic.

Since ramping up the production of vaccines would be a necessary step in that direction, the government can direct pharmaceutical companies to loan their manufacturing capacity to the existing COVID-19 manufacturers like the SII and Bharat Biotech to boost their manufacturing capability so that more COVID-19 vaccine vials can be produced. This can be done without affecting the ability of these companies to develop and test their own vaccine candidates.

IP-based solutions

Under Section 100 of the Patents Act, 1970, the Central government has the power to authorise anyone (such as specific pharmaceutical companies) to use any patents or patent applications for the “purposes of government”. Under this provision, the Central government can licence specific companies to manufacture the COVID-19 vaccines. The other option is to make use of Section 92 of the Patents Act, which allows the Central government to issue a compulsory licence (a licence issued to manufacture the patented product without the consent of the patent holder) in circumstances of national emergency or extreme urgency or in case of public non-commercial use. The pandemic is a circumstance of national emergency. Thus, the Central government, under Section 92, can issue a notification in this regard. Subsequently, any company willing or directed by the government to manufacture the COVID-19 vaccine can be issued a licence.

Another option available to the government, as some commentators have pointed out, is that all COVID-19 vaccine projects that are funded by the taxpayer’s money should not claim IP rights in the first place or if patents are granted, they should not be enforced. This would make the wider dissemination of research outcomes possible facilitating easy replication by other manufacturers. This can be done in the context of Covaxin that has been developed by Bharat Biotech in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research and the National Institute of Virology.

The government needs to explore the production capabilities of the pharmaceutical companies in the public sector to build India’s manufacturing competence. For instance, Haffkine Biopharmaceutical Corporation, a State government public sector undertaking, can manufacture Covaxin immediately. A licence could have been issued to this entity by the government last year and we would have had higher supplies of COVID-19 vaccines this year. These legal options have been available to the government all along. The government should have used these options to build India’s manufacturing capacity, which would have placed us in a better position to fight the second wave. There is still hope and a chance to respond to this lament. Will the government listen?

Murali Neelakantan is Principal Lawyer at Amicus, Mumbai, and Prabhash Ranjan is with South Asian University, New Delhi. Views are personal

Peace with Pakistan is not just a bilateral matter, but is essential for India to transform South Asia

The statement issued by the Director Generals of Military Operations of India and Pakistan, in late February, that they agree to strictly observe all agreements between the two countries, coincided with a statement made by Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan in Colombo that “our only dispute is Kashmir and it can only be resolved through dialogue.” This was later strongly endorsed by Pakistan’s Army Chief, General Qamar Bajwa. This shows that there is a growing, but unstated, realisation that neither country can wrest parts of Kashmir that each controls from the other. Rather, it is best to focus on resolving issues that blight the entire subcontinent — poverty, malnutrition and an unconscionable neglect of the young. It is a realisation that the India-Pakistan animosity hurts regionalism and South Asian growth.

Economic integration

A fair peace between India and Pakistan is not just good for the two states but for all the nations constituting the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). Reports such as the World Bank publication titled ‘A Glass Half Full’ and others from the Asian Development Bank and the European Union conclude that there is explosive value to be derived from South Asian economic integration.

While SAARC has facilitated limited collaborations among its members, it has remained a victim of India-Pakistan posturing. As External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar observed in a December 2020 interview to this newspaper: “If SAARC is a serious regionalism initiative, and [Pakistan] blocks trade and connectivity and people-to-people ties... what regionalism are we speaking of?” Now, given that the two countries have agreed to maintain ceasefire, it is time for India to seize the moment and become more South Asia-concerned and much less Pakistan-obsessed.

An economically transformed and integrated South Asian region could advantageously link up with China’s Belt and Road Initiative and even join the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, the world’s largest trading bloc of 15 countries, accounting for 30% of its GDP, as a much valued partner.

Writing in a commemorative volume in honour of the late Sri Lankan economist Saman Kelegama, Professor Selim Raihan of the University of Dhaka brings out India’s overwhelming ‘size imbalance’ in South Asia: “The shares of India in the total land area, population, and real GDP of South Asia in 2016 are 62%, 75%, and 83%, respectively. The two other big countries in South Asia are Pakistan and Bangladesh with shares in regional GDP of only 7.6% and 5.6%, respectively.”

Given its size and heft, only India can take the lead in transforming a grossly under-performing region like South Asia. Collectively with a population of slightly over 1.9 billion, South Asia has a GDP (PPP) of $12 trillion. Contrast this with the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN). Numbering nearly 700 million, ASEAN has a GDP (PPP) of around $9 trillion and a per capita income which, at $14,000 (PPP), is closing in on China, with member states like Vietnam starting to grow spectacularly.

India’s moment

This is the moment for India to think big and act big by ambitiously aiming to engineer a South Asian economic miracle in half the time China did. If this sounds impossible, so did China’s rise in 1972. But for that to happen, India needs to view a peace with Pakistan not as a bilateral matter, to be arrived at leisurely, if at all, but as essential and urgent, all the while viewing it as a chance of a lifetime, to dramatically transform South Asia for the better, no less.

Uday Balakrishnan teaches at IISc, Bengaluru. Views are personal

Rational safety measures and scaled up vaccinations can rein in COVID-19

India’s aggressive second wave of coronavirus infections marked by over 1,50,000 cases a day and many deaths is clearly the result of irrational exuberance early in the new year. After prematurely assuming that COVID-19 was virtually over, governments made rash decisions to allow large religious gatherings and political campaigns with little regard for disease control. The lapse is now threatening a nascent economic recovery. Rather than view the crisis as a political setback, the government should focus on a mitigation strategy that will not hobble the economy, while stopping the wildfire spread of the virus. A key intervention would be to protect the labour force through a scaling up of vaccinations in industry and workplaces. Employers must also be encouraged to retain or opt for staggered working hours and work-from-home protocols. The national vaccination strategy, however, remains inscrutable and non-transparent, since more vaccines, including WHO-approved ones, remain unavailable to Indians for unspecified reasons. Allowing all proven vaccines to be offered in cities with suitable cold chain capacity at prices comparable to European or U.S. acquisitions — typically under $20 a dose for m-RNA vaccines — would be as much a decision on the economy as on public health, making more Covishield and Covaxin doses available to priority recipients. This cannot, of course, be a silver bullet, given the big population that remains to be covered, the fast pace of virus spread enabled in part by variants and younger age groups showing symptomatic disease. At present, the social vaccine — masking, healthy distancing and public etiquette — is vitally important, more so because the health system is not equipped to handle severe disease countrywide.

The scientific view of pandemic fatigue is that people see the opportunity cost of prolonged adherence to demanding restrictions as too high, considering the value of things lost. That includes access to education, meeting with loved ones, performing life rituals, and the conflict of both work and home confined to the same space. This universal experience is made worse in India by deficits in housing, mobility options and good living conditions. It is important for the government, therefore, to come up with rational activity curbs, keep them stable and incentivise people, including through financial rewards. These initiatives can lower the perception of lost opportunities and compensate workers in the affected sectors such as the travel, food and hospitality industries. This road map can be reviewed when vaccines become widely available and cases decline, although a return to a carefree past is a long way off. Political communication on the state of the pandemic lacked a clear sense of purpose during festivals and poll campaigns. Now, the COVID-19 strategy can avert costly partial or full lockdowns only with public cooperation, and that calls for building credibility and trust.

U.S. and Iran should rebuild the lost trust and resolve the nuclear crisis before time runs out

The Vienna talks between the remaining members of the Iran nuclear deal — China, Russia, the U.K., France, Germany and Iran — have raised hopes for the revival of the agreement from which then President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the U.S. in May 2018. After the initial round of talks, European and Iranian diplomats have said efforts to revive the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as the deal is officially called, are on “the right track”. An American delegation, led by Robert Malley, the White House special envoy for Iran, is also in Vienna, though the Americans and the Iranians would not hold direct talks. All sides agree that bringing the deal back on track is ideal, but who will blink first? The U.S. wants Iran to end its uranium enrichment and centrifuge development programmes and return to the 2015 agreement, while Tehran has demanded the U.S. lift all sanctions imposed by Mr. Trump and still enforced by President Joe Biden. The agenda at Vienna, therefore, is to produce a road map for the revival of the JCPOA by addressing these two critical issues — Iran’s nuclear enhanced programme and American sanctions.

The Biden administration has displayed flexibility in its approach towards Iran. The President appointed a special envoy, ended the U.S.’s support for Saudi Arabia’s war against the Houthis, Iran-backed militants, in Yemen and promised to lift sanctions if Tehran returns to the JCPOA terms. The administration has also reportedly made an offer to Iran to release $1 billion of Iranian money frozen in South Korea as part of the sanctions in exchange for ending its 20% uranium enrichment. But a wary Iran, which was fully compliant with the agreement when Mr. Trump abandoned it and slapped back sanctions, has rejected the offer, seeking more concrete measures from the U.S. The challenge both sides are facing is a lack of time. Iran holds its presidential polls in June. If the U.S.’s best chance to address Iran’s nuclear programme is through the revival of the JCPOA, the best possibility of reviving the agreement is to do it (or at least agree on a road map) before the presidential election. There are external dangers as well. Iran-backed Shia militias in Iraq continue to target U.S. forces and bases in Iraq. The Israel-Iran shadow conflict is now being fought inside Syria and on the seas. Last week, an Iranian ship was attacked in the Red Sea. If security tensions rise in the region involving Iran and its proxies, it could derail the diplomatic efforts. The U.S. and Iran should exercise restraint, stay focused on talks and rebuild the lost trust, and take measures to get the deal back on track that would resolve the nuclear crisis in return for dismantling the sanctions regime.

In proroguing the Bengal Legislative Council on Friday last, Lord Ronaldshay, the Governor of Bengal, made an important speech in which he took some considerable pains to deal with the new reformed constitution. His Lordship expounded it in a way which ought to have astounded even the most optimistic of those Moderate politicians who fondly sought to mislead the country, fortunately without any appreciable success, that under the new constitution we had everything essential, including almost the full budget right. Lord Ronaldshay, however, roundly told the members of the Council that he and “the reserved half of Government” were not their servants and that, in refusing to grant their demands in certain respects, the members "treatment of it has not been quite in accordance with the intentions of Parliament”.

United Nations, April 12: U.N. experts predict that there will be more than a billion people in China by the year 1990 and more than a billion in India by 2000, when the world’s population will total almost 6.5 billion. Those and other projections by the U.N. Population Division are given in the latest issue of the monthly bulletin of Statistics, circulated here this week-end. The latest comparable U.N. estimates of actual population for mid-1969 are 740 million for China, 537 million for India and 3.552 billion for the world. The projections show that the world’s population will top four billion by 1975, nearly five billion by 1985, 5.5 billion by 1990 and six billion by 1995, and hit 6.493 billion in 2000. Between 1975 and 2000, they indicate, the population of the world’s more developed regions will go from 1.147 billion to 1.453 billion. The number of people in the Soviet Union, the world’s third most populous country with an estimated 240 million in mid-1969, is figured to increase from 235 million in 1975 to 316 million in 1990 and 329 million in 2000. The fourth-ranking United States, with an estimated 203 million people in mid-1969, is expected to have 219 million people in 1975 and 252 million in 1985, the last year of projections for industrialised western countries.