கொவைட் 19 கொள்ளை நோய்த்தொற்றின் இரண்டாவது அலை நாட்டின் பல பகுதிகளிலும் வெகுவாகக் குறைந்துவிட்டது என்றாலும்கூட, தமிழகம், ஆந்திரம், கேரளம், கா்நாடகம், ஒடிஸா, மகராஷ்டிரம் ஆகிய மாநிலங்களில் இன்னும்கூட நோய்த்தொற்றுப் பரவல் முற்றிலுமாகக் கட்டுக்குள் வரவில்லை. அதனால் கடந்த வெள்ளிக்கிழமை மேற்குறிப்பிட்ட ஆறு மாநில முதல்வா்களுடனும் பிரதமா் நரேந்திர மோடி காணொலி வாயிலாக ஆலோசனை நடத்தினாா்.
மூன்றாவது அலை பரவுவதைத் தடுப்பதற்கான நடவடிக்கைகளை மேற்கொள்ள வேண்டும் என்று பிரதமா் வலியுறுத்துவதற்கு சில அடிப்படை காரணங்கள் இருக்கின்றன. கடந்த வாரம் கொள்ளை நோய்த்தொற்றால் உயிரிழந்தோரில் 84% போ் மேற்குறிப்பிட்ட ஆறு மாநிலங்களைச் சோ்ந்தவா்கள். மூன்றாவது அலை பரவலில் குழந்தைகள் அதிக அளவில் பாதிக்கப்படக்கூடும் என்பதால், மிகுந்த எச்சரிக்கையுடன் இருக்க வேண்டிய அவசியம் ஏற்பட்டிருக்கிறது. அது மட்டுமல்லாமல், நோய்த்தொற்றுப் பரவல் தொடா்ந்து நீடிக்கும்போது தீநுண்மியின் உருமாற்றங்கள் மிகப்பெரிய ஆபத்தை ஏற்படுத்தக்கூடும். அதனால்தான் மூன்றாவது அலை குறித்து பிரதமா் மாநில முதல்வா்களை எச்சரித்திருக்கிறாா்.
இந்தியாவில் முதன்முதலில் கண்டறியப்பட்ட கொவைட் 19-இன் டெல்டா உருமாற்றம், உலகம் முழுவதும் பரவக்கூடும் என்று உலக சுகாதார அமைப்பு எச்சரிக்கை விடுத்திருக்கிறது. பிரிட்டனில் முதல் முறையாகக் கண்டறியப்பட்ட ஆல்பா உருமாற்றம், தற்போது உலகின் 170 நாடுகளில் காணப்படுகிறது. தென்னாப்பிரிக்காவில் கண்டறியப்பட்ட பீட்டா உருமாற்றம் 119 நாடுகளிலும், இந்தியாவில் கண்டறியப்பட்ட டெல்டா உருமாற்றம் 85 நாடுகளிலும் பதிவாகியிருக்கின்றன. அபாயம் நிறைந்த ஆல்பா, பீட்டா, காமா, டெல்டா உருமாற்றங்கள் சா்வதேச அளவில் பரவி வருவதாக உலக சுகாதார அமைப்பு தெரிவிக்கிறது.
உலகின் சில பகுதிகளில் கொள்ளை நோய்த்தொற்றுப் பரவலின் தீவிரம் குறையத் தொடங்கியிருக்கிறது என்று ஆறுதல் அடைந்துவிட முடியாது. உலக மக்கள்தொகையில் அந்த நாடுகள் வெறும் 5% என்றாலும்கூட, சா்வதேச அளவில் நோய்த்தொற்றுக்கு பலியானவா்களில் நான்கில் ஒருவா் தென்னமெரிக்காவைச் சோ்ந்தவா்கள். தென்னமெரிக்காவின் 13 நாடுகளில் மட்டும் இதுவரை உயிரிழந்தவா்களின் எண்ணிக்கை 10 லட்சத்தை நெருங்கிவிட்டது. நோய்த்தொற்றின் அடுத்த மையமாக தென்னமெரிக்காவை மருத்துவ ஆய்வாளா்கள் கருதுகின்றனா்.
சா்வதேச அளவில் ஏப்ரல் 28-ஆம் தேதி உச்சத்தைத் தொட்ட கொவைட்-19 கொள்ளை நோய்த்தொற்று, 90 லட்சத்திலிருந்து படிப்படியாகக் குறைந்து ஜூன் 21-ஆம் தேதி சுமாா் 30 லட்சம் என்கிற அளவில் இருந்தது. இப்போது மீண்டும் அதிகரித்து ஜூலை 15-ம் தேதி நிலவரப்படி 53 லட்சத்தை எட்டியிருக்கிறது. ஜூலை இரண்டாவது வாரத்தில் மட்டுமே 30 லட்சம் புதிய பாதிப்புகள் பதிவாகியிருக்கின்றன. ஜூலை 15-ம் தேதி நிலவரப்படி, சா்வதேச அளவில் இதுவரை பாதிப்புக்கு உள்ளானவா்களின் மொத்த எண்ணிக்கை 18.89 கோடி.
அதிகமாகப் பரவும் டெல்டா உருமாற்றம் 111 நாடுகளில் காணப்படுவதாக உலக சுகாதார அமைப்பு தெரிவிக்கிறது. பிரேஸில், இந்தியா, இந்தோனேஷியா, பிரிட்டன், கொலம்பியா ஆகிய நாடுகள் கடந்த வார நிலவரப்படி நோய்த்தொற்றுப் பரவலில் முன்னணியில் இருக்கின்றன. ஜிம்பாப்வே, இந்தோனேஷியா, அமெரிக்கா, வங்க தேசம், பிரிட்டன் ஆகியவற்றில் திடீரென்று நோய்த்தொற்று பாதிப்பு அதிகரிப்பு பதிவாகியிருக்கிறது. பிரேஸில், கொலம்பியாவில் உலகின் மற்ற பகுதிகளைவிட பல மடங்கு அதிகமாக நோய்த்தொற்றுப் பரவல் காணப்படுகிறது.
ஆசியாவில், அதிலும் குறிப்பாக தென்கிழக்காசிய நாடுகளில், நோய்த்தொற்றுப் பரவல் கட்டுக்குள் வந்திருந்தது. இப்போது மீண்டும் நோய்த்தொற்று அதிகரிக்கத் தொடங்கி நாள்தோறும் அதிக அளவில் பாதிப்புகள் பதிவாகின்றன. அதிக அளவிலான பாதிப்பில் இந்தோனேஷியா முன்னணியில் இருக்கிறது. கடந்த வாரத்தில் மட்டும், அதற்கு முந்தைய வாரத்தைவிட 44% பாதிப்பு அதிகரித்திருக்கிறது. ஜூலை 15 நிலவரப்படி இந்தோனேஷியாவில் 56,757 பாதிப்புகள் பதிவாகி, அது ஆசியாவின் பாதிப்பு மையமாகியிருக்கிறது.
கடந்த ஒன்பது வாரங்களாகக் குறைந்து வந்த கொவைட் 19 இறப்புகள் கடந்த வாரத்திலிருந்து திடீரென்று அதிகரிக்கத் தொடங்கியிருப்பது கவலையளிக்கிறது. ஆப்பிரிக்காவிலும் தென்கிழக்கு ஆசியாவிலும் மிக அதிக அளவில் நோய்த்தொற்று மரணம் காணப்படுகிறது. தென்னமெரிக்காவின் பிரேஸில், கொலம்பியா, பராகுவே ஆகிய நாடுகளில் கொவைட் 19 பாதிப்பால் உயிரிழப்போரின் விகிதம் அமெரிக்காவைவிட 19 மடங்கு அதிகம். ஜூலை 7 நிலவரப்படி, உலகளாவிய அளவில் கொவைட் 19 மரணம் 40 லட்சத்தை தாண்டியது. கடந்த 90 நாள்களில் 10 லட்சம் உயிரிழப்புகள் பதிவாகியிருக்கின்றன. மிகக் குறைந்த கால அளவில் அதிக அளவு இறப்புகள் பதிவாகியிருப்பது அச்சமளிக்கிறது.
அமெரிக்காவில் குறைந்த அளவு தடுப்பூசி போடப்பட்ட மாநிலங்களில்தான் அதிக அளவு இறப்புகள் ஏற்பட்டிருக்கின்றன. பிரிட்டனில் நோய்த்தொற்றுப் பரவல் அதிகரித்தும்கூட அதிக மருத்துவமனை சிகிச்சையும், உயிரிழப்பும் இல்லாமல் இருப்பதற்குக் காரணம், அங்கு 87% மக்கள்தொகையினருக்கு தடுப்பூசி போடப்பட்டது என்பதை நாம் கவனத்தில் கொள்ள வேண்டும். பெரும்பாலான மாநிலங்களில் தடுப்பூசித் தட்டுப்பாடு காணப்படும் நிலையில், மூன்றாவது அலை குறித்த அச்சம் என்பது எதிர்பார்ப்பல்ல , நிஜம்!--Source: dinamani.com
இந்தியாவின் ஒட்டுமொத்த இருசக்கர வாகனச் சந்தையில் ஏறக்குறைய சரிபாதியை இலக்காகக் கொண்டே ஓலா எலெக்ட்ரிக் நிறுவனம் வாகன உற்பத்தியில் அடியெடுத்துவைத்துள்ளது. இந்தியாவில் இருசக்கர வாகனங்களின் வருடாந்திர சராசரி விற்பனை 2.1 கோடியாக இருக்கிறது. அவற்றில், ஸ்கூட்டர்களின் எண்ணிக்கை மட்டும் 65 லட்சம். ஆண்டொன்றுக்கு ஒரு கோடி இ-ஸ்கூட்டர்களைத் தயாரிக்க ஓலா எலெக்ட்ரிக் இலக்காக வைத்துள்ளது.
விரைவில், இந்தியாவுக்கு வெளியே தெற்காசிய அளவிலும் ஐரோப்பாவிலுமாக உலகளாவிய சந்தையை விரித்தெடுக்கும் விருப்பத்தையும் வெளிப்படுத்தியுள்ளது. மின்சக்தியால் இயங்கும் இருசக்கர வாகனச் சந்தையில் சீன நிறுவனங்களுடனான போட்டி ஓலா எலெக்ட்ரிக் நிறுவனத்துக்கு ஒரு சவாலாக இருக்கக்கூடும். ஆனால், உலக அளவிலான உற்பத்தி அளவில் ஏறக்குறைய 15% உற்பத்தித் திறன் கொண்ட தயாரிப்பு ஆலைகளைத் தாம் திட்டமிட்டிருப்பதாக இந்நிறுவனம் தெரிவித்துள்ளது. உற்பத்தி ஆலையைத் தொடங்குவதற்குத் தமிழ்நாட்டில் ரூ.2,400 கோடியை ஓலா நிறுவனம் முதற்கட்டமாக முதலீடு செய்துள்ளது.
கிருஷ்ணகிரி மாவட்டம் போச்சம்பள்ளியில் உள்ள சிப்காட் பகுதியில் 500 ஏக்கரில் அமையவுள்ள ஓலா நிறுவனத்தின் வாகனத் தயாரிப்புத் தொழிற்சாலையானது 2020 டிசம்பரில் அன்றைய முதல்வர் பழனிசாமி மேற்கொண்ட புரிந்துணர்வு ஒப்பந்தத்தின் அடிப்படையிலானது. இதன் மூலமாகப் படிப்படியாக 10 ஆயிரம் பேருக்கு வேலைவாய்ப்பு கிடைக்கும் என்று எதிர்பார்க்கப்படுகிறது. இத்தொழிற்சாலைப் பணிகளில் தமிழ்நாட்டின் மனிதவளத்தைப் பயன்படுத்திக்கொள்வதற்கான வாய்ப்புகள் அதிகம்.
ஓசூரிலிருந்து ஏற்கெனவே மின்சக்தியால் இயங்கும் இருசக்கர வாகனங்களைத் தயாரித்துவரும் ஏதர் எனெர்ஜி நிறுவனமும் தமது உற்பத்தியை அதிகரிக்கத் திட்டமிட்டுள்ளது. சென்னையை மையம்கொண்டுள்ள கார் உற்பத்தித் தொழிற்சாலைகளைப் போல கிருஷ்ணகிரியில் மின்சக்தியால் இயங்கும் வாகனங்களுக்கான தொழிற்சாலைப் பகுதியைத் திட்டமிட்டு உருவாக்குவதற்கான வாய்ப்பாக இவற்றைக் கொள்ள வேண்டும்.
வாகன உற்பத்தியில் வளர்ச்சிக்கான சாத்தியங்களைக் கொண்ட புதிய துறை என்பதால், தொடர்ந்து மற்ற மின்வாகன உற்பத்தி நிறுவனங்களின் முதலீடுகளையும் ஈர்த்திட மாநில அரசு முயல வேண்டும். இந்தத் தொழிற்சாலைகளுக்கு யாருடைய ஆட்சிக் காலத்தில் அடித்தளம் உருவாக்கப்பட்டது, யாருடைய ஆட்சிக் காலத்தில் உற்பத்தி தொடங்கியது என்று கட்சி அரசியலை முன்னிறுத்தாமல் தமிழ்நாட்டின் தொழில் துறை வளர்ச்சிக்கான மேலும் புதிய வாய்ப்புகளுக்கே முக்கியத்துவம் அளிக்கப்பட வேண்டும்.
With the withdrawal of the United States from Afghanistan in process, New Delhi has decided to ramp down its civilian presence in the war-torn country, bracing for a full-blown civil war. India has ‘temporarily’ closed its consulate in Kandahar and evacuated its diplomats and Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) personnel stationed there. This follows the decision to suspend operations in the Indian consulates in Jalalabad and Herat. As a result, India today is left with its Embassy in Kabul and the consulate in Mazar-e-Sharif.
The Taliban’s sway
These developments indicate two things: New Delhi’s decision to partially “withdraw” from Afghanistan shows that betting only on the government in Kabul was a big mistake, and that New Delhi realises the threat Taliban poses to Indian assets and presence in Afghanistan. Either way, India’s Afghan policy is at a major crossroads; to safeguard its civilian assets there as well as to stay relevant in the unfolding ‘great game’ in and around Afghanistan, New Delhi must fundamentally reset its Afghanistan policy.
India must, in its own national interest, begin ‘open talks’ with the Taliban before it is too late. The time for hesitant, half-embarrassed backchannel parleys is over. However, when I say it is time to ‘openly’ talk to the Taliban, I do not mean according recognition to the Taliban. In any case, what is there to ‘recognise’ at this point as far as the Taliban is concerned? It is only one of the parties in Afghanistan — it is neither the Afghan government, nor a part of it. Not yet. But with over a third of Afghanistan’s more than 400 districts under Taliban control, the talk-to-the-Taliban-option is indeed the best of the many less than perfect options available to India.
To be fair, New Delhi has been steadily abandoning its puritanical policy towards the Taliban over the past few years. In late 2018, when Moscow organised a conference which had the Taliban, members of the Afghan High Peace Council, and other countries from the region in attendance, India sent a ‘non-official delegation’ of two retired diplomats to Moscow. Thereafter, in September last year, India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar joined the inaugural session of the intra-Afghan negotiations in Doha. Last month, reports indicated that India has started reaching out to the Taliban which was indirectly confirmed by the Ministry of External Affairs when it said “we are in touch with various stakeholders in pursuance of our long-term commitment towards development and reconstruction in Afghanistan”.
However, such half-hearted, half-embarrassed, ideologically-hesitant meandering outreach to the Taliban is hardly sufficient to safeguard Indian interests in a rapidly shifting Afghan geopolitical landscape. Open dialogue with the Taliban should no longer be a taboo; it is a strategic necessity. Therefore, our outreach must now be direct and unambiguous. But before I explain why I say so, let me briefly analyse New Delhi’s rationale for the indirect approach to the Taliban.
Rationale for indirect talks
There are at least five possible reasons why New Delhi appears to want to keep the Taliban engagement slow and behind closed doors. For one, if New Delhi chooses to engage the Taliban directly, it could make Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani, thus far India’s trusted partner, uneasy. This could potentially nudge him to look towards China and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) for national security and personal political survival. So, in New Delhi’s calculation, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Two, decision makers in New Delhi are also faced with the dilemma of who to talk to within the Taliban given that it is hardly a monolith. New Delhi may have little access to the members of the Quetta Shura or the fighters on the ground in Afghanistan. So, the only option might be the Doha-based Taliban negotiators or leaders such as Abdul Salam Zaeef whose beef with Pakistan is well known. Third, given the global opprobrium that Taliban faced in its earlier avatar and the lack of evidence about whether the outfit is a changed lot today, New Delhi might not want to court the Taliban so soon. More so, there is little clarity about what the Taliban’s real intentions are going forward and what they would do after ascending to power in Kabul. Finally, it would not be totally unreasonable to consider the possibility of Pakistan acting out against India in Kashmir if India were to establish deeper links with the Taliban.
New Delhi’s rationale is not entirely erroneous. And yet, there are more compelling reasons why India should engage with the Taliban more proactively and openly. For one, whether we like it or not, the Taliban, one way or another, is going to be part of the political scheme of things in Afghanistan, and unlike in 1996, a large number of players in the international community are going to recognise/negotiate/do business with the Taliban. So, basic statecraft requires that we follow that route as well. Making peace with thefait accompliis not always a bad thing especially in the absence of better alternatives.
The Pakistan factor
Two, the Taliban today is looking for regional and global partners for recognition and legitimacy especially in the neighbourhood. So the less proactive the Indian engagement with the Taliban, the stronger Pakistan-Taliban relations would become. Put differently, and bluntly, letting the Pakistani deep state exclusively deal with the Taliban is an inherently bad idea.
Third, even though the Taliban is widely considered to be propped up by Pakistan, it would be a mistake to think that the Taliban will continue to be Pakistan’s servile followers upon gaining power in Kabul. A worldly-wise and internationally-exposed Taliban 2.0 would develop its own agency and sovereign claims including perhaps calling into question the legitimacy of the Durand Line separating Pakistan and Afghanistan, something Pakistan was always concerned about. More so, contrary to what many analysts assume, a Taliban-dominated Afghanistan, next door to its Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan-infested tribal areas, may not really end up becoming a happy space for Pakistan. In other words, the Taliban would want to hedge their bets on how far to listen to Pakistan. That is precisely when New Delhi should engage the Taliban.
Four, India needs to court all parties in Afghanistan, including the Taliban, if it wants to ensure its security of its civilian assets there. It makes neither strategic nor economic sense to withdraw from Afghanistan after spending over $3 billion, something the Government seems to be prepared to do. Withdrawing from Afghanistan now because the Taliban is on the rise (and we do not want to have relations with them) will go on to highlight how weak our strategic resolve is.
Five, India’s outreach to the Taliban should have started years ago before the Taliban had many suitors as they do today. So, if India is not proactive in Afghanistan at least now, late as it is, Russia, Iran, Pakistan and China will emerge as the shapers of Afghanistan’s political and geopolitical destiny, which for sure will be detrimental to Indian interests there.
Open the congested frontier
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, opening up the congested north-western frontier is key to bringing India’s continental grand strategy on an even keel, a process New Delhi has already started. Backchannel talks with Pakistan and a consequent ceasefire on the Line of Control, political dialogue with the mainstream Kashmiri leadership, secret parleys with Taliban all indicate that New Delhi is opening up its congested north-western frontier. Proactive engagement of the Taliban will provide this effort with more strategic heft.
Consider this. Except for the strategic foray into the Indo-Pacific, India today is strategically boxed in the region and it must break out of it. Afghanistan could provide, if not immediately, India with such a way out.
In the end, India’s engagement with the Taliban may or may not achieve much, but non-engagement will definitely hurt Indian interests. In an ideal world, the Taliban, given its bloody past, should not have been anywhere near governing Afghanistan, but it is neither an ideal situation nor is the Taliban stoppable from gaining power in Kabul. So New Delhi must exorcise the demons of IC-814 (the December 1999 hijacking) from its collective memory and engage with the Taliban 2.0 — there is no need to be secretive or embarrassed about it. And yet, open engagement of the Taliban is neither tolerating nor accepting the condemnable atrocities committed by the Taliban.
Happymon Jacob teaches at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi and is the founder of the Council for Strategic and Defense Research
The just-concluded initial public offering (IPO) of Zomato, which has successfully raised about Rs. 9,000 crore at an astronomical valuation of Rs. 66,000 crore, makes one believe that money does grow on trees.
More than 150 years ago, Leo Tolstoy, one of the greatest novelists and thinkers of the world, writing in his book,What Then Must We Do,wondered and asked: if everything of value and substance is produced in the rural areas, why then are the villages mired in poverty and cities awash in wealth? That question continues to befuddle us.
An old conundrum
All these thoughts brought back memories of my own life from the 1980s. Those days I struggled as a farmer to make ends meet. I toiled all day, living out of a second-hand Army tent in a remote part of rural Karnataka. One day, after harvesting the banana crop and loading it on to my tractor well before dawn, I drove it to the weekly farmers’ market in Hassan, the district headquarters. As I approached the main road leading to the market, my tractor stopped behind a massive row of trucks and vehicles, hundreds of them, all belonging to other farmers. Walking up a kilometre I came across thousands of agitated farmers. They had unloaded their fresh green chillies and tomatoes on to the road and the black tarmac had turned red and green. The heady pungent fumes from the crushed chillies made it impossible to breathe. Discovering that the prices had crashed, the farmers were up in arms as they were not even able to recover the transportation costs. So, they had blocked the roads. Around noon, finally extricating myself from the melee, unable to sell my produce and crestfallen, I ferried the bananas back to my farm and fed them to my cattle.
The IPO event of Zomato also reminded me of those days when banks repeatedly turned down my request for an agriculture loan of Rs. 1 lakh but two decades later, a bank sanctioned an eye-popping amount of Rs. 500 crore on a silver platter to my low-cost airline as the airline was publicly listed and a highly valued stock. The value lay in the mind’s eye of the beholder, who, unbeknownst to me, was in thrall to mythic bears and bulls who swayed the bourses.
All these strange phenomena of the modern economy hark back to the old conundrum: how is it that those farmers who own land, toil and till; produce real stuff that we eat and drink and touch and feel; produce things that keep us fed and warm — grains, fruits, vegetables, meat, cotton, wool and silk and so on — live in destitution whereas the merchant who peddles them or the broker who speculates is rich? The multinational behemoths which retail groceries and other products (Kraft Heinz, Cargill, Tyson Foods, Danone, Nestle, Unilever, Walmart, Reliance), those which build solid steel plants, automobiles, buildings, bridges, ships, railways and chains of hotels may in turn wonder why they do all the heavy lifting but are overshadowed in their stock market valuation by Amazon, Microsoft, TCS and Infosys. And now, the new kids on the block — Byju’s, Zomato, and Paytm — are more valuable than those that have been working for decades. The Manipal Group, for instance, runs scores of medical and engineering colleges and hospitals. It owns hundreds of acres of prime land across cities in India and even overseas. It has massive education complexes and impressive laboratories, medical diagnostics equipment, and surgical operation theatres. Despite thousands of crores of investments and hundreds of professors and doctors and nurses, it is valued at a fraction of Byju’s.
Similarly, the Taj Hotels, Oberoi Hotels and other five-star hotels own the most expensive real estate. They have luxurious rooms and suites, gourmet restaurants, spas and salons, and swimming pools fit for maharajahs. But they are valued less than a fraction of Zomato. And Zomato, which produces nothing and only purveys the food made by innumerable restaurants across the country, has almost twice the valuation of Jubilant FoodWorks that owns Domino’s Pizza. While others make profits, Zomato and the new unicorns all bleed cash but have dizzying valuations.
I met Neeraj Gupta of Meru Cabs, who was the first entrepreneur to launch nationwide GPS-linked radio taxis in India. He revolutionised urban mobility a few years ago. He owned more than 3,000 cars then. His company now has a fleet of 9,000 cars. But Uber and Ola, which manage a few lakh taxis across the metros of India, have upended his business model. These are asset-light companies that only manage the taxis enlisted on their Internet platform. They meet the needs of customers with optimal, effective and timely use of available resources but have heady market caps. I am not discrediting these Internet companies. These are indeed brilliant concepts.
A good life
Information and data are said to be the new fuel of the modern economy. The Internet makes the world go round and round and the stock valuations of new-age companies can orbit you into space.
But there is limited space in that stratosphere. This world, and life on it, cannot be circumscribed in a make-believe cloud. You can’t eat information and everyone cannot live in the Internet bubble. We need food, clothing, water, housing, transportation, electricity and hospitals, and also flowers, poetry and art. We need education in schools and university campuses where there are teachers in flesh and blood and where breezy, invigorating dialogue, debate, bonhomie, music, and laughter reign. We need restaurants and travel, and beaches with sun, sand, and wine and kisses. We need stout hearty men and women who work with their hands to provide for the world. All that makes for a good life.
That may not make you a billionaire, which the sterile world of the Internet economy can make you, but don’t be disheartened or discouraged. That real world rooted in the earth and soil I speak of can create wealth too. It can give abundant joy and meaning if you do your job with passion and commitment.
Then my thoughts turned to my wife’s 25-year-old Iyengar Bakery tucked away in Malleswaram, Bengaluru. It is a landmark eatery, which is loved and patronised by the local residents. It is part of the cultural landscape. Her wealth has not soared like the stocks of Internet companies. But she is happy and content and loves making breads and buns every day. And she is the master of her own universe.
There are countless such people across India in myriad fields — farmers, teachers, doctors, writers, journalists, masons, carpenters, blacksmiths, mechanics, artists, artisans, grocers and vendors — who serve their communities and provide jobs, livelihoods and security. They make this a wonderful world. Man cannot live by the Internet alone.
Captain G.R. Gopinath is a soldier, farmer and founder of Air Deccan
Those who are either old enough or have read the history of health services in India, will testify that in the mid-1980s, there were a number of government health-care facilities across the country, with newly constructed buildings, impeccable linoleum floorings, imported state-of-the-art medical equipment such as infant radiant warmers and at times ‘foreign made’ cars/jeeps (for the field visits of health staff).
These facilities had benefited from generous financial and commodity assistance as part of the overseas development assistance (ODA) from many well-intentioned international donors. However, in the year to follow, the number of patients attending these facilities continued to be low and the equipment remained packed and stacked in store rooms. Years later, the vehicles were repurposed for use in some national programmes such as polio elimination and blindness control. Most of such upgraded facilities had failed to meet the health needs of the poor people. A key reason was that while infrastructure was upgraded, there was perennial shortage of health staff, i.e., doctors, nurses and others, which was supposed to be recruited by the governments. Four decades later, in the COVID-19 pandemic response, the Indian government appears to repeat the same mistake.
Centre’s financial package
On July 8, 2021, the Union government announced the “India COVID-19 Emergency Response and Health Systems Preparedness Package: Phase II” (https://bit.ly/3BpyrHl), with the stated purpose to boost health infrastructure and prepare for a possible third wave of COVID-19. Through this financial package, there is plan to increase COVID-19 beds, improve the oxygen availability and supply, create buffer stocks of essential medicines; purchase equipment and strengthen paediatric beds. However, the package barely has any attention on improving the availability of health human resources.
Even before the novel coronavirus pandemic, as reported in rural health statistics and the national health profile (both official government documents), there are vacancies for staff in government health facilities, which range from 30% to 80%, depending upon the sub-group of medical officers, specialist doctors to nurses, laboratory technicians, pharmacists and radiographers, amongst others. In addition, there are wide inter-State variations, with States that have poor health indicators with the highest vacancies.
The Government seems to have recognised the gaps in health infrastructure; however, the shortage in the health workforce is barely being discussed. An intensive care unit bed or ventilator is no use unless there are trained staff to run these equipment and qualified doctors and nurses to attend to patients. Sixteen months into the pandemic, though there has been occasional recognition of the shortage in the health workforce and a few commitments to fill the vacancies; very few are known to fructify, even partially, at both the Union and State levels. As an example, the Union Ministry of Health in May 2020, announced recruiting 300 epidemiologists; it is not known what the status is. Among the States which announced filling vacancies of health staff, attention has mostly been narrow — on select subgroups such doctors or nurses, and not holistic, and promises remain unfulfilled.
The COVID-19 package II (which focuses on health infrastructure strengthening) needs to be urgently supplemented by another plan and a similar financial package (with shared Union and State government funding) to fill the existing vacancies of health staff at all levels. Alongside, an objective approach to assess the mid-term health human resource needs could be the Indian Public Health Standards (IPHS), which prescribe the human resources and infrastructure needed to make various types of government health facilities functional. Once such a need is assessed, the Union and State governments would have to come up with another financial package for human resources to complement the COVID-19 health package II. That alone can make health facilities functional in a sustainable manner.
The broader picture
Second, the COVID-19 pandemic should not be seen in the narrow sense of an infrastructure shortage for the health sector. Even after being supplemented by another package for health human resource, the pandemic should be used as an opportunity to prepare India’s health system for the future. As an initial step in this direction, the new Union Minister of Health should consider getting a comprehensive review of actions taken on the key decisions and Government promises made (to strengthen health services) since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.
Alongside, the progress on key policy decisions, for the last few years, to strengthen India’s health system, including those in India’s national health policy of 2017, need to be objectively scrutinised. These two sets of policy decisions and announcements should be reviewed and progress monitored, through a meeting of the Central Council of Health and Family Welfare, of which the Health Ministers of the States are members. This should not wait for the pandemic to get over and should be done now. It is only if the past policy promises and commitments are followed through and implemented that India’s health system could be strengthened from what it is now.
India’s health system will not benefit from ad hoc and a patchwork of one or other small packages. It essentially needs some transformational changes. The COVID-19 package II appears insufficient and seems to be based upon a misguided assumption that infrastructure is equal to health services. Governments (both Union and State) seem to be on the path to repeat four decade-old mistakes. While international donors could be excused for being bereft of ground realities, what would the excuse for the Government be?
Dr. Chandrakant Lahariya, a physician-epidemiologist, is a public policy and health systems expert and co-author of ‘Till We Win: India’s Fight Against The COVID-19 Pandemic’
Father Stan Swamy’s recent death while waiting for bail has prompted an outcry among lawyers, activists and concerned citizens. While those who admired him were processing their grief, the same National Investigation Agency (NIA) Court rejected bail for one of his co-accused, Anand Teltumbde. Father Swamy’s arrest under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and the denial of bail to him and others accused in the Bhima-Koregaon case have highlighted issues related to police power, pretrial detention, and draconian anti-terror legislation. However, the role of prosecutors in perpetuating the dominant attitude towards undertrial detention has been largely ignored.
Role of public prosecutors
The NIA Court order rejecting Father Swamy’s request for bail stated that the prosecutor submitted various pieces of evidence to prove a prima facie case against the accused. The prosecutor argued that the court must give precedence to the interest of the community/society over the right to liberty even though by this stage, Father Swamy’s need for medical attention was apparent. He had Parkinson’s disease, his hearing was impaired and he had contracted COVID-19. Was an 84-year-old man in such a precarious state of health a threat to the community’s interests? Was there any risk of him absconding or tampering with evidence if released? The prosecutor’s stand in the case as mechanically presenting the investigating agency’s case while zealously demanding prolonged detention of the undertrial throws up vexing questions about the role of public prosecutors in the criminal justice system.
Public prosecutors are influential at every stage of a trial. They decide what offences the accused person should be charged with, whether to seek pretrial custody, and what sentence to ask for. However, public prosecutors, unlike defence counsel, have an ethical obligation to seek justice balancing the interests of the victims of crime, society, and those accused of crimes. They represent the public and are not mere mouthpieces for law enforcement agencies. The Supreme Court inSheo Nandan Paswan v. State of Bihar(1986) cautioned that even though prosecutors have a duty to represent the executive for trying the offender, and it is broadly their responsibility to see that the trial results in conviction, they need not be extremely concerned about the outcome of the case. They act as officers of the court and are obliged to ensure that the accused person is not unfairly treated. The High Court of Delhi, inJitendra Kumar v. State(1999), warned that, “In performance of his duty he can prosecute the accused, but he cannot assume the role of a persecutor. It is no part of his duty to secure conviction at all costs... The Public Prosecutor should act fairly and impartially and must be conscious of the rights of the accused. He is not only required to conduct prosecution case... but [also] respect and protect the rights of the accused.”
The duty of a public prosecutor to not assume the role of persecutor is vital in trials under special statutes like the UAPA, which water down fair trial guarantees. Undertrial detention becomes a convenient means to punish those accused under the UAPA without convicting them. Such trials are long-drawn-out, and the conviction rate is low. In 2019, in 11% of UAPA cases (pending from previous years and filed in 2019), the police closed the case because of insufficient evidence or because the accused was untraceable. Charge sheets were filed in only 9% of the UAPA cases. The conviction rate for UAPA cases was 29.2% compared to an average conviction rate of 50.4% for crimes committed under the Indian Penal Code.
Public prosecutors also have a role in narrative building. Since they present the state’s case in criminal trials, they build narratives of criminality and criminalisation. Daniel Richman describes them as “adjudicative gatekeepers” who play a key role in translating criminal “law on the books” to criminal “law in action.” Such narratives are especially pernicious in cases involving alleged terrorist activities and “anti-nationals”, where anxieties about the security of the state already haunt the imagination of those in the criminal justice system and ordinary citizens. Thus, public prosecutors who support criminal justice reform can be a powerful force for altering the culture of undertrial detention.
The responses of the prosecutors and law enforcement agencies reflect the carceral logic that buttresses undertrial detention. Two-thirds of India’s prison population comprises undertrial prisoners. This reflects the embedding of this carceral logic in the architecture of law enforcement and manifests in prosecutors demanding prolonged custody of the accused. Reversing course will require a re-imagination of the objectives of the criminal justice system and cultural change.
Leah Verghese is with DAKSH, a nonprofit based in Bengaluru
For now, the risk has receded that the United Arab Emirates (UAE), said to hold the world’s largest untapped crude reserves, might quit the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). The end to the UAE’s weeks-long impasse with Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s biggest crude exporters, and Russia, a non-OPEC state, was brought about by Sunday’s deal. Under its terms, the UAE’s demand for an increase in its oil output quotas, in recognition of its higher production capacity, has been conceded. The baselines have also been raised for Saudi Arabia, Russia, Iraq and Kuwait.
The bloc will now step up crude production by 400,000 barrels a day starting in August. The deal will extend until the end of 2022. The output boost is in response to rising oil prices in the wake of the rebound in economic activity following the easing of lockdown restrictions and increased COVID-19 vaccinations in different parts of the world. Sunday’s deal has also extended until the end of next year the broad terms of the unprecedented production cuts the bloc enforced in April 2020. The cartel cut oil production by 9.7 million barrels a day (mbd) as oil demand fell from 100 mbd to 91.1 mbd and prices plummeted from $70 in January 2020 to around $20 in April. The bloc has since gradually rolled back these steep cuts and hopes to return production to pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2022.
The UAE has played hard ball during the bloc’s attempts to deal with the pandemic-induced price volatility. In December, when OPEC+ tried to ease production cuts, the UAE insisted that members who diluted the original output reductions should compensate through even steeper cuts, following its own example. Thus, while the internal rift has been resolved for now, the danger cannot be ruled out of an increasingly economically and politically assertive UAE flexing its muscle. Any potential break with the bloc would undoubtedly prove far more consequential for the OPEC than the 2019 exit of Qatar.
Bilateral relations between the traditional allies, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, have been especially strained since the UAE established diplomatic ties with Israel last year and withdrew troops from the Saudi-spearheaded war in Yemen the year before. A more recent arena of tension is the tariffs Riyadh has imposed on imports from the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council. Saudi Arabia will now exclude from the GCC tariff agreement goods made by companies with a workforce of less than 25% of locals and industrial products with less than 40% of added value after their transformation process. Home to a predominantly migrant population, the move could hit the UAE especially hard.
Peak in oil demand
The latest OPEC compromise echoes growing recognition of the delicate balance between competing domestic and global priorities. Foremost is their eagerness to maximise the returns on their substantial hydrocarbon resources, amid growing speculation of a peak in oil demand within sight. The OPEC, echoing other assessments, forecast in 2016 that a strict implementation of the Paris climate accord could see the demand for oil peak by 2030, owing to the proliferation of alternative fuels and electric cars. Conversely, its report last year pins hopes on population growth and expansion of the middle class for continued increase in oil demand. The International Energy Agency (IEA), which in 2016 forecast a continued rise in oil consumption until the 2040s, has more recently hinted at about 5% rise or fall relative to the demand before the pandemic within a decade. The OPEC’s other concerns are the stabilisation of world oil prices without jeopardising national expenditure programmes, and the diversification of economies in anticipation of the unfolding global energy transition. Unity would be of the essence amid this uncertainty.
Garimella Subramaniam is Director - Strategic Initiatives, AgnoShin Tecchnologies Pvt Ltd
A touchy topic for the Centre and States has been the counting of the dead from COVID-19. In 2020, as the pandemic ravaged Europe and the U.S., Health Ministry officials would incessantly argue that India had better managed the pandemic because its deaths per million of population were comparatively lower. While factually true, it was always apparent that the argument was specious given the size, demographic difference and India’s per capita access to quality health care. But the ferocious second wave, in April and May, characterised by the very visible scenario of hospitals being overrun, and the sick gasping for a very basic necessity of medical oxygen, revealed a spike in excess deaths, compared to the normal death rate in previous years. Even though independent databases, such as the CRS and State records, show large spikes in deaths, with no other explicable cause other than COVID-19, the Centre continues to be in denial of the mortal scale of the pandemic. Tuesday’s statement by Bharati Pravin Pawar, Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare, in the Rajya Sabha, that there were no “specific reports” of deaths from States due to lack of oxygen, led Congress leader K.C. Venugopal, to say the party will move a privilege motion against her.
Indeed, it is the absolute lack of empathy or acknowledgement of the lived experience of many who have watched their closest suffer and die for want of medical oxygen that makes the Minister’s statement appalling. It is technically true that while no death certificate or medical record would note a COVID-19 patient’s demise as due to “lack of oxygen”, and therefore not causative, the very fact that the Centre moved in April-May to repurpose all its industrial oxygen capacity into producing and transporting medical grade oxygen is itself evidence that the inability to access it must be considered as a probable cause of death. In the early days of the pandemic, a COVID-positive test was necessary to count as a COVID-19 death until the ICMR said it was not always required. It is bewildering why India — with the third highest number of COVID-19 deaths globally, whose oxygen crisis was international news, and mortality figures considered an under-count — sees value in denying oxygen-shortage casualties. Counter-productively, it diminishes public faith in the health-care system. India’s leadership sought to convey the impression that the country had conquered the pandemic and — chastened by the second wave — is now advising abundant caution, with the public messaging focused on the possibility of a third wave, and how nearly a third of the population continues to be vulnerable as per the ICMR’s fourth serology survey. But diminishing the tragedy, especially in Parliament and in its official records, only further erodes the Government’s credibility.
The revival of the monsoon has overwhelmed Mumbai and its suburbs once again, paralysing life, disrupting drinking water supplies, and exposing the parlous state of its infrastructure. It is clear that the volume and duration of monsoonal rain are turning unpredictable, and intermittent torrents, with crippling impacts on cities will become more frequent, influenced by a warming climate. Strengthening that theory, three weather stations in Mumbai recorded a staggering level of rainfall in one week from July 13, ranging from 628 mm in Mahalaxmi to 958.5 mm in Santa Cruz, the latter experiencing a peak of 234.9 mm on July 18. The inundation has taken a toll of at least 32 lives, and the majority of victims died in landslides that crushed their slum houses at Mahul in Chembur. These deaths of despair recur almost every year, soon to be forgotten in fair weather in a city that prides itself on its enterprise and resilience. In the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the monsoon malady poses a double jeopardy, adding to the economic misery of the vulnerable who live in hovels in suburban landslide-prone locations. Such dire conditions stand in contrast to Maharashtra’s keen desire to keep Mumbai as the country’s pre-eminent financial metropolis. The limitations in its infrastructure to accommodate intense monsoons, and its notorious inability to provide affordable inner city housing to the less affluent and even the middle class, are making other cities look more attractive.
The catastrophic floods in Mumbai and Chennai in 2005 and 2015, respectively, resulted in the emergence of a management plan drawn up by the National Disaster Management Authority and later, the first dedicated storm water drainage manual by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs. But such initiatives can do little if States, which have both power and responsibility over city affairs, do not feel compelled to address the challenges posed by urbanisation. In fact, Mumbai’s inability to manage recurrent floods and the needs of a massive slum population was highlighted by a fact-finding committee appointed by the Maharashtra government after the 2005 deluge, with calls to liberate the city’s rivers and lakes from various impediments, enable perennial flow in the Mithi river, create fresh holding lakes for excess waters, and rehabilitate those who live in risky locations. There is a need to clear the air on the follow-up to these and other expert recommendations, which the State can do through a white paper. Mumbai’s neglect is not unique, though, and most big cities are amorphously expanding to the suburbs where basic infrastructure including drainage is absent, and lakes and rivers are heavily encroached, often with political support. Such unplanned growth, with no defences against weather disasters, is leaving cities a lot poorer.
The External Affairs Minister, Mr. Swaran Singh, to-day [New Delhi, July 21] warned Pakistan against any attack on India on some pretext and said, “we are also not alone.” He was replying to a call attention notice in the Rayja Sabha on President Yahya Khan’s threat on Monday that Pakistan would go to war if India seized “any part of East Pakistan.” Mr. Swaran Singh described the statement of the Pakistan President as “unwarranted and baseless.” Either President Yahya Khan was trying to mislead his people and the world at large or preparing them for an aggression against India by making such a statement, he said. Mr. Swaran Singh advised restraint on the part of members when Mr. N.G. Goray (P.S.P.), who tabled the notice along with others, urged the Government to take possession of some areas in East Bengal to rehabilitate the refugees. He appealed to the members not to say anything which might be quoted against India in international forums. India, he said, had no desire to seize any part of Pakistan. While taking note of the fact that Gen. Yahya Khan’s threat had come in the wake of the announcement of the Sino-U.S. summit meeting, the External Affairs Minister repeated that India was ready to defend itself if Pakistan used the successes of freedom fighters in liberating territory in Bangla Desh as a pretext for attacking India.