Editorials - 08-06-2021

The acronym ‘DOTS’ is a framework to understand the dynamics of the second wave, thereby helping mitigate the next

After a long and painful month-and-a-half, confirmed cases of COVID-19 in India have been declining steadily for more than a month. Deaths have started to decrease as well. However, it is a long way down from an unprecedented peak of more than 400,000 daily cases, and the suffering will continue for weeks and months to come. It does, however, appear that the second wave of the novel coronavirus is abating.

‘R’ and determinants

A simple epidemiologic concept can be used to better understand the second wave and help plan for a potential third wave. The reproduction number — often referred as R — is the average number of new infections arising from one infected individual. R fluctuates over time during an epidemic. When R is greater than 1, infected individuals infect more than one person on average and we observe increasing cases. When it is less than 1, cases are declining. It is not a perfect statistic, especially when cases are low, but it does provide helpful insights into how an epidemic is changing.

What led R to increase earlier this year resulting in a second wave? R depends on four factors, summarised by the acronym DOTS: the Duration a person is infectious; Opportunities infected individuals have to spread infection to others; the probability Transmission occurs given an opportunity, and the average Susceptibility of a population or subpopulation. Because each factor is required for increasing cases, reducing any of them to 0 would extinguish an epidemic. This is not practical right now anywhere in the world. However, we should work toward decreasing these factors such that R remains as low as possible. It is also critical to consider the effect new variants have had on each of these four factors.

Susceptibility, opportunities

Let us start with S — the proportion of the population susceptible to infection. Susceptible individuals lack immunity derived through prior infection or immunisation. Results from a national seroprevalence survey done in December 2020 and January 2021 indicate that roughly 25% of the population had antibodies (https://bit.ly/3v0WSWY) to the virus that causes COVID-19. Estimates were slightly different depending on geography. And some surveys showed substantially higher exposure to the virus. Nevertheless, there was still a substantial susceptible population in most parts of the country at the beginning of 2021. Susceptibility can be reduced through immunisation. By the end-March, however, less than 1% of the total population had received two doses of the vaccine. Taken together, the right conditions were set for a potential second wave at the beginning of 2021.

The next factor is the number of opportunities for transmission — or O in the DOTS. By January, there was a sense that India had made it through the worst of COVID-19. Many people were eager to get back to life and work, especially after a very challenging 2020. Social distancing had reduced and markets filled again with people. One salient characteristic of COVID-19 is that the disease is driven largely by superspreading, where many individuals are infected by a small number of individuals. Colleagues and I showed in research from Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh (https://bit.ly/2T7Dpa9) that only 5% of infected individuals accounted for roughly 80% of all secondary infections. With this in mind, increased social mixing and large gatherings that took place in early 2021 also might have helped facilitate a second wave.

Transmission, duration

This brings us to T, or the probability of transmission. Not taking proper precautions can lead to increased transmission. There are no good national statistics on the proportion of people adhering to preventative measures. However, during my travels throughout India for work in early 2021, it was clear that few people were wearing masks while in public. In addition, new variants that are more transmissible have emerged. One new variant called B.1.617.2, or more recently known as the delta variant, is known to be much more transmissible — potentially twice as much (https://bit.ly/3pxqD0O) — than those circulating in 2020. This is demonstrated by the fact that it is the dominant variant in India and has emerged as the dominant variant in the United Kingdom according to data from there.

Finally, the last factor in the DOTS equation is the duration of infectiousness or D. Emerging evidence (https://bit.ly/3fZufpa) suggests that the duration of infectiousness could be slightly longer with some new variants. More research is needed to confirm this. However, this could help explain why some variants are outcompeting others and could have contributed to the increase in R in India earlier this year.

A third wave?

What does this mean for a potential third wave? First, we need well-designed seroprevalence surveys to understand how much of the population remains susceptible and where they reside. The Government has planned a seroprevalence study in June in the same 70 districts where the first three rounds were conducted. There also remain questions about waning immunity and the potential for reinfections, which would affect how we calculate the proportion of the population that is susceptible. The new variants also complicate this equation, as they are able to partially evade immunity developed through infection or immunisation.

Despite the need for more data, based on the existing evidence and out of an abundance of caution, we should anticipate that there could be a potential third wave.

Luckily, DOTS provides us with a framework for preventing or mitigating a third wave. We need to drive down the factors that contribute to R wherever possible. And we need to work even harder to do this, because the new variants have skewed the equation such that R can more easily be pushed to be greater than 1. Some regions have implemented lockdowns, which substantially reduce opportunities for transmission. These are temporary solutions and should be used to focus on slowing transmission and scaling up other interventions. Mass gatherings have also largely stopped, which should help reduce opportunities for transmission. This is welcome news and should continue after the second wave. We can reduce the susceptible population by substantially increasing immunisation coverage. Currently only 3% of the population has received both doses. The Government is working hard to procure additional doses that are desperately needed.

Mask use, ventilation

Transmission can be reduced through increased use of face masks and improved ventilation. Research from neighbouring Bangladesh (https://bit.ly/3vVDBrr) indicates that providing free masks together with community monitors can help improve adoption. Last, if the duration of infectiousness is indeed longer, isolation and quarantining guidelines should be revisited to minimise potential exposure to others.

The emergence of new variants means we need to take these interventions even more seriously. Connecting the DOTS, though, can help mitigate a third wave and the tremendous pain and suffering that have become all too common in recent weeks.

Brian Wahl, PhD, MPH, is an epidemiologist and faculty member at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and a member of the Johns Hopkins India Institute COVID-19 Response Task Force. He has worked on public health issues in India for more than a decade

More needs to be done in India in the context of COVID-19, which has exacerbated mental illnesses

Mental health issues are a major health challenge in the world today. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there is a 10-25-year life expectancy reduction in patients with severe mental disorders. About 72% of member states had a standalone policy or plan for mental health in 2017. India introduced the National Mental Health Policy (NMHP) in 2014, and a rights-based Mental Healthcare Act in 2017, which replaced the Mental Healthcare Act of 1987. The NMHP, National Health Mission, National Adolescent Health Programme, and Ayushman Bharat have the necessary components to address the mental health issues of all sections of the population. But more needs to be done in the context of COVID-19, which has exacerbated mental illnesses everywhere.

Mental health indicators

Studies inThe Lancet Public Health(2019) revealed that median mental health spending across the world was around 2% of the total government health expenditure in 2015. In the case of low-income countries, it was around 0.5% of their health budget; for lower-middle-income countries, it was 1.9%; for upper-middle-income countries, 2.4%; and for high-income countries, 5.1%. There was higher allocation in developed countries than in developing countries. Government expenditure on hospitals dealing with mental health issues as a percentage of total government expenditure on mental health is 1.3% in India; in developed countries, it ranges from 3% to 15%.

In India, the share of mental hospitals per 1,00,000 population is as low as 0.01 in line with developing countries, according to the WHO. This may possibly be due to the lack of focussed attention given to mental health compared to other major diseases in India.

In the distribution of mental health units in general hospitals (per 1,00,000 population) globally, in 2016, India was ranked 114 with just 0.03 units per 1,00,000 population. India was at the 99th position in the distribution of mental health outpatient facilities (per 1,00,000 population), with 0.18 units per 1,00,000 population. India was also at the 64th position in the distribution of mental health day treatment facilities (per 1,00,000 population).

Residential mental health services, particularly community ones, are an important component for good quality mental health care. In most industrialised economies, there has been a growth of community healthcare facilities in line with the increase in patients with mental health issues. Research also shows that long-term patients with mental health issues are usually admitted to residential facilities. The distribution of community residential facilities globally for the median year 2016 showed India at the 58th position, with 0.017 units per 1,00,000 population among the WHO member countries.

The people working in the mental health sector help us understand mental health issues better. Here, India was ranked 107 with 0.292 per 1,00,000 population. Nurses, social workers and psychologists working in the mental health sector (per 1,00,000 population) in India are 0.796, 0.065, and 0.069, respectively. The leading countries in each of these three areas have 150.3, 145.4, and 222.6 per 1,00,000 population. India’s ranking in this context among the WHO member countries was 97, 79 and 104, respectively.

Mental illnesses

Mental illnesses include anxiety disorders, psychotic disorders, mood disorders, substance use disorders, personality disorders and eating disorders. The majority of suicides in the world are related to psychiatric problems or to the illnesses listed above. Death by suicide is a complex phenomenon and not fully reported. Globally, the suicide rate was 10.6 per 1,00,000 population whereas in India, it was 16.3 per 1,00,000 in 2016. The suicide rate was higher among males compared to females.

Mental health may not be the primary concern in developing economies like India as there may be other communicable and non-communicable diseases which may be more prevalent. There are also challenges regarding funding, delivery of mental health packages, lack of trained staff, etc. However, these challenges need to be considered more seriously in the wake of COVID-19 as mental health issues are widely prevalent among the Indian population due to lockdowns and related issues.

Recent reports published inLancetrevealed that one in seven people in India had a mental disorder ranging from mild to severe in 2017. Also, the proportional contribution of mental disorders to the total disease burden had doubled between 1990 and 2017. Mental disorders include depressive and anxiety disorders, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. This situation was generally worse in the southern States compared to the northern States due to the nature of development, modernisation, urbanisation and other factors not understood yet. Depressive disorders were more prevalent among females than males which could be due to sexual abuse, gender discrimination, stress due to antenatal and postnatal issues and other reasons.

Additional measures

In order to further address mental health issues, India could reduce the treatment gap for mental disorders, increase the number of personnel in the mental health sector, work towards reducing discriminatory attitudes, and devise an integrated approach for detecting, treating, and managing patient needs. More counselling facilities, especially in rural areas, with special support for women through the provision of women doctors are needed. More telemedicine, telephone-based helpline numbers, and mental health apps could help. Communities and families have an important role in this regard and so do community-based programmes. School-based programmes on mental health can improve the mental health of children. More fund allocation for treatment of mental health, especially to those States in need of funds, could do wonders. The pandemic may be the best time to explore various policy options including creating online mental health awareness.

There needs to be a road map for mental health awareness. This should include the traditional media, government programmes, the education system, industry, and social media. Media awareness and government involvement is already happening in India but both can improve. It is high time that industry and private sector companies set up counselling facilities. The application of big data and crowd sourcing ideas may help us in informed decision-making.

Surjith Karthikeyan is an Indian Economic Service (2010) Officer. Views are personal

With a section of the young generation rejecting violence, Israel and Palestine must explore peaceful negotiations

The recent clashes between young Palestinians and Israelis in Jerusalem and in the occupied West Bank are a reminder of why it is so important to understand that the challenge of peace in that region of the world is actually the challenge for all of us who have been witnessing for the past 70 years a murderous and horrific conflict between Arabs and Jews.

A common humanity

The refusal to kill or to legitimate murder is the starting point where Palestinian-Israeli reconciliation can begin. The question is can Israelis or Palestinians imagine each other’s death and their shared responsibility for it? Can they perceive themselves as perpetrators of violence as well as its victims? Can an Israeli father or mother imagine that a Palestinian child is as precious as his/her own? Can a Palestinian feel the same sense of horror, disgust and sorrow when he or she sees the image of Israeli children blown up by rockets or suicide bombers?

Forming an answer to these questions begins with Palestinians and Israelis recognising their common humanity and shared values beyond a continuous reinvention of their victimhood, and beyond a persistent tendency to blame the other. The moral courage to accept one’s wrongdoings can help stop the perpetuation and a deepening of a war between the two nations. Fearful men and women who cannot visualise a goal or goods beyond a mere instinct to survive cannot help the process of peace. A fearful person cannot love, have desire, or have hope. It is perhaps too much to hope that a community, a state or for that matter, even an isolated individual, can admit being wrong. But to hope is already a step forward and to do one’s best for such hope is a giant leap forward.

There is no doubt in anybody’s mind that the clash between Israelis and Palestinians is a clash between two versions of the same lived experience. There are no good guys and bad guys in this conflict, as most people living outside this region tend to perceive it. We are talking about two nations that have been living with their shattered dreams and broken hopes. In a way, dying together, more than living together, has brought Israelis and Palestinians to share the same fate. They are burning in the same fire. So either each nation can run for its own life and let the other fade or both nations can try to fight the flames together. This is because neither Israeli Jews, nor Palestinian Arabs can find a national homeland anywhere else. This is why the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is neither a clash of cultures nor a clash of religious traditions, but a clash of intolerances and prejudices among two nations who share the same boat.

For too many years an iron wall of hatred, violence and fanaticism has separated the world of Israelis from that of Palestinians. As a result, we have a traumatised and untrusting peoples on both sides. For much too long, the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world have treated Israel as an infection that will simply go away. for their part, many Israelis have treated the entire Palestinian issue as no more than a vicious invention of a pan-Arab propaganda machine, aimed at undermining Israel’s legitimacy in order to destroy it. In terms of violence committed in the region, the major human rights violations are generally perpetuated by the Israeli military and various Palestinian militant groups that claim responsibility for killing civilians. However, the peoples of both countries are in broad agreement that it is never justified for an individual person or militaries to target and kill civilians.

Grounded in reality

Many young Israelis and Palestinians reject violence in the long run and favour non-violent forms of negotiation as the best approach to achieving self-determination and security. Is this an idealistic dream? Maybe. But perhaps idealism is the most realistic approach at this time, because non-violence is the solution most grounded in reality. As we have seen in the past 70 years, violence has not worked and submission to domination has been intolerable. Non-violence, it would seem, is the only alternative. This is the only strategy that can assure Israelis their security and Palestinians their state. The key requirement for any peace settlement is that violence must end. This does not mean that we have to be silent in an undignified way in face of the deaths of innocent civilians on both sides. It means that we need to launch a global movement of non-violent resistance to the violent policies of those who are against a coherent and proactive negotiating position.

Wheel of victimisation

The path to a workable peace — one with a Palestinian state alongside Israel, and both with internationally recognised borders — has been well known for long. But a succession of Israeli and Palestinian leaders have been reluctant to pick up the challenge. If each side has refused to understand the other, it is because each side has seen itself only as a victim. A sense of victimisation has accompanied both sides, with a justification and legitimisation of violence. There is doubt on whether there can be a partner to deliver peace. But how can we get out of this cycle of violence and how can the two sides reverse direction and start looking towards the future? No realist would believe that today there is a brilliant formula or shining piece of paper that will end the Palestinian-Israeli tragedy in our time. This is true, but the years and decades to come will be very challenging for both Israelis and Palestinians.

Roughly speaking, Israel is caught in a dilemma. If it does not end the occupation and retreat, it will lose both its integrity as a Jewish democratic state and its international legitimacy. But if Israel does end the occupation and withdraw without a peace accord, it will be perceived by its neighbours as an act of weakness. To solve this dilemma, Israel must get its act together. It must reform its political system; it must come up with a government of wisdom and common sense. But it must do more than that. It must create a new, relevant narrative, which is a narrative of tolerance and dialogue.

As for the Palestinians, they have no way of regaining their rights without the active participation of Israelis in their democratic effort. If there is a permanent agreement with the Palestinians on this issue, Israel will no longer be able to view its Arab citizens as permanently suspect and unofficial enemy agents. In the coming decades, Israelis will be confronted with a fundamental question — whether to ensure the peaceful transition towards an egalitarian society in which Palestinians are given the same rights as Jews. However, this does not mean that they have to artificially engineer solutions. On the contrary, it means that for one people to realise their dreams, another should not lose everything. It is time for Israel and Palestine to underline the renunciation of violence and murder as a moral imperative and an alternative course of action. But for that, they both need to understand that they are victims of the same fear, prejudice and intolerance. Undoubtedly, light and hope can only come from a non-violent dialogue between young Palestinians and Israeli youth.

Ramin Jahanbegloo is Director, Mahatma Gandhi Centre for Peace, Jindal Global University, Sonipat

As the Quad gains momentum, states in the Indo-Pacific and South Asia are more likely to resist Chinese largesse

In May, in another brazen display of its ‘wolf warrior’ diplomacy, China issued a strange warning to Bangladesh, a nation that it has tried to cultivate assiduously over several years. While suggesting that China considers the Quad to be a minor anti-China initiative, the Chinese Ambassador to Bangladesh, Li Jiming, warned Dhaka that there will be “substantial damage” in bilateral ties between China and Bangladesh if the latter joins the Quad. It was an extraordinary statement by a diplomat in a host nation but it had all the chutzpah that Chinese diplomats think they deserve to embed in their seemingly non-diplomatic outpourings.

Revealing fault lines

As was expected, Bangladesh Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen promptly and publicly challenged the Chinese envoy’s statement, underlining categorically that Dhaka pursues an independent foreign policy. “It’s very regrettable… We are an independent and sovereign state. We decide our foreign policy,” he said. “They [the Chinese] can say what they want…We will listen to what they say. But we will decide what is good for us.” There was some attempt at damage control with Mr. Li reportedly trying to explain his remarks to Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen later in a meeting where he apparently said that he “did not mean to harm the ties between the two countries” and that his remarks were taken “out of context.” But the Chinese Foreign Ministry continued to target Quad “as a small clique against China” and said that “remarks expressing opposition to this mechanism are not about interference but about expressing opposition to small cliques and bloc politics. They also reflect the aspiration for maintaining regional peace and stability.” That China’s remarks would reverberate far beyond South Asia was expected and perhaps intended by Beijing itself. The spokesperson of U.S. State Department remarked, “What we would say is that we respect Bangladesh’s sovereignty and we respect Bangladesh’s right to make foreign policy decisions for itself.”

This episode captures the emerging fault lines in South Asia and the wider Indo-Pacific in ways that are both revealing and challenging. As the tectonic plates in the Indo-Pacific shift, major players are making their moves and testing the waters. For all its attempts to play down the relevance of the Quad, Beijing realises that the grouping, with all its weaknesses, is emerging as a reality and there is little it can do to prevent that. It tried but failed. And so, it is agitated about Quad’s future role and its potential success in offering the regional states an alternative to its own strong-arm tactics.

The Quad member states are busy in figuring out a cohesive agenda amongst themselves and there are no plans for an expansion. There is a desire to work with like-minded nations but that can only happen if the four members of the Quad can build a credible platform first. No one is sending out invitations to join Quad and no one has shown an interest. But Beijing wants to ensure that after failing in its initial attempt to prevent the Quad from gaining any traction, its message is well understood by other states who may harbour any desire of working closely with the Quad members to uphold a rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific. With its message to Dhaka, Beijing was laying down a marker that nations should desist from engaging with the Quad.

Growing momentum of Quad

Of course, this aggressive diplomacy is likely to have the opposite effect, but that is for the future. For the moment, it is enough for Beijing to showcase its public disapproval of a platform that has gained rapid traction. Beijing has failed to prevent nations from the West to the East from coming out with their Indo-Pacific strategies, it has failed to prevent the operationalisation of the Quad, and now it might be worried about other nations in the region thinking of engaging with the Quad more proactively. Even Bangladesh is planning to come out with its own Indo-Pacific strategy and Beijing has now warned Dhaka that a close cooperation with the Quad should not be part of the policy mix.

This is just the beginning. As the Quad gains more momentum and the churn in the waters of the Indo-Pacific leads to new countervailing coalitions against China, Beijing’s belligerence can only be expected to grow. For many regional states in South Asia and the Indo-Pacific, it has been a smooth ride so far with China being the only game in town. For all the criticism China has heaped on the Quad’s members for trying to create an exclusive clique, it will be Beijing that is likely to demand clear-cut foreign policy choices from its regional interlocutors. And states are more likely to push back than become subservient to Chinese largesse.

Harsh V. Pant is Director, Studies at Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi and Professor of International Relations, King's College London

While debating the CBSE Class 12 exam, the criteria considered were career, safety, and empathy

A real leader examines every issue in a holistic manner to ensure that at the end of the debate, we emerge stronger and more united than ever before. The decision to cancel the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) Class 12 exam is among the many decisions taken by the Prime Minister in the sphere of education in these times of unprecedented crises and challenges.

Three criteria

Every decision in public policy should pass certain objective criteria because there are always competing alternatives. If a decision is based on the criterion of empathy, it an excellent decision. If empathy is clubbed with rationality, the decision will pay rich dividends for all the citizens. The three criteria that were considered in the debate on cancelling the CBSE Class 12 exam were students’ career, their safety, and empathy.

Regarding the first criterion, there is no denying that the CBSE Class 12 exam has a significant role in every student’s career graph and road map for life.

Regarding the second criterion, the health and safety of our students is of the greatest importance and there should not be any compromise on this aspect. Though the numbers of COVID-19 cases are decreasing, some States are still under some form of lockdown. The Prime Minster has said that every single life is precious and the safety of our children is our biggest priority.

Regarding the third criterion, I feel that all stakeholders must show sensitivity and empathy for our students. The Prime Minster has proved that leadership is all about empathy and the ability to connect with the people. He has always been there inPariksha Pe Charchawith our students to inspire them with empathy.

Democracy since the days of the ‘Janapada system’ of ancient India is all about consultative decision-making. When we met for the first time on the CBSE issue, the Prime Minister made it clear that a decision should be taken only after wide discussion. He used to repeatedly ask, was this issue widely discussed and debated by all the stakeholders in the country? Keeping in mind the spirit of wide consultation, a high-powered committee was formed under the chairmanship of Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, with Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar and Women and Child Development Minister Smriti Irani as its core members. This was a pan-India consultation involving all the State Education Ministers, Education Secretaries and Chairpersons of State Education Boards. We discussed the road map and possible avenues for conduct of the Class 12 exam.

The valuable inputs and suggestions received during the consultations were analysed using the three aforementioned criteria, by the Prime Minster and other Cabinet Ministers and senior officers of the country. Looking at the various criteria, dimensions, possibilities and scenarios, a decision was taken.

A timely decision

The decision to cancel the exam will help lakhs of students explore career opportunities in colleges and universities in the coming academic session. It will also help our students get aligned with the coming session and prevent loss of valuable time as well as academic losses. Some students who wish to take the exam will get adequate opportunities to do so in an improved scenario. We are completely committed to providing ample opportunities to merit-seeking students who wish to write the board exam.

As Union Minister of Education, I would like to assure you that the Class 12 results will be formulated according to a well-defined and objective criterion in a time-bound manner ensuring merit and inclusivity. There will be comprehensive planning by the CBSE and the Ministry officials to formulate the mechanism that will accommodate all possible options of evaluation and quantification. The mental freedom and strength achieved through this decision will go a long way in contributing to the general well-being of students, families, society, and our country.

Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’ is Union Education Minister, Government of India

High-performing States with good schoolscan nudge others if they have the political will

The Union Education Ministry has been attempting to get States into a competitive mode in upgrading their school education system by recognising progress with a Performance Grading Index (PGI) that assigns them a score. It can be argued that countries and State governments use school education as a transformative tool most effectively where the political imperative is strong. The Centre’s effort with the PGI scoring system has been to try and nudge all States using a hall of fame approach. In the latest set of scores and grades for the pre-COVID-19 year, 2019-20, the Andaman and Nicobar islands, Chandigarh, Kerala, Punjab and Tamil Nadu have performed the best, although they still fall short of the 951-1,000 points slab, the highest possible. It should be heartening to 33 States and Union Territories that their PGI scores have improved over the previous year, and in the case of Andaman and Nicobar, Punjab and Arunachal Pradesh, by a noteworthy 20%. Several middling States continue to make marginal progress, some have improved merely by tweaking their data, while Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh actually regressed, although the PGI scheme is now three years old. The score is derived using databases on 70 parameters such as access, equity, governance processes, infrastructure and facilities, and learning outcomes that are mostly self-reported by the States but vetted by the Centre, with National Achievement Survey data also being incorporated. On some parameters, such as uneven learning outcomes between students from deprived communities and others, bridging the gap earns a better score.

The Centre, with its transparent scores and data for each parameter and sub-topic made available in the public domain, seeks to create a resource-sharing system that low-performing States can tap into. This initiative is laudable, but it can work only if governments and Opposition parties see value in strong and open school education, and work to strengthen access, equity and infrastructure by budgeting fees and funds for universalisation. It is such commitment that led Southeast Asia to carry out a renaissance in school education in the later decades of the last century, on the lines of Meiji-era Japan. India’s school system has to contend with not just patchy access and infrastructure, but major equity issues that have come to the fore during the pandemic. Clearly, the shadow of COVID-19 will persist over the education system for the foreseeable future, and further progress on all parameters will depend on bridging the gaps, particularly on digital tools, infrastructure and subsidies for access. The PGI scores show that the southern and western States are on firm ground to achieve this, while those in central India and parts of the east and Northeast are less resourced. What is evident from the Education Ministry analysis is that governance processes are the weakest link in some States. A new deal for schools can transform them as the Right to Education law envisages.

A good monsoon will aid agriculture, now one of the few bright spots in the economy

If everything aligns, India could see a third consecutive year of surplus rainfall. The IMD has said that monsoon rains will likely be 101% of the Long Period Average (LPA) of 88 cm. In 2020, it was 109% of the LPA and in 2019, 110%. While the forecast 101% LPA is short of the rainfall received in these years and still within the range of what the IMD considers ‘normal’ rainfall, it is positive news because the current forecast is ‘above normal’ rainfall in the core agricultural zone. This zone includes States where agriculture is significantly rain-fed including Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Odisha and West Bengal. The IMD’s estimate of the distribution of this rainfall also suggests that except for the Northeast, where rainfall is expected to be ‘below normal’, other regions are expected to get above normal rainfall. A general pattern of the monsoon is that weakened rains over Northeastern India — which has a higher base rainfall than other parts of India — translate into stronger rainfall in Central India. Propitious rain this year is premised on forecasts from Indian and global climate models, veering towards no excess sea-surface temperatures at the Equatorial Pacific conditions. There are also ‘negative’ IOD (Indian Ocean Dipole) conditions over the Indian Ocean during the monsoon season, meaning warmer water and greater precipitation in the eastern Indian Ocean. Put together, they mean that these larger climate factors are, as of now, unlikely to have a significant influence over the prevailing monsoon.

A good monsoon could aid agriculture which has been among the few bright spots in the Indian economy. Two good years of rains have boosted storage in the key reservoirs. However, the flip side of a forecast for a bounteous monsoon is the possibility of flash floods, landslides and disease outbreaks. In the last year and before it, the IMD had not, in June, warned about the exceptionally high rains. While three consecutive years of above normal rain are exceedingly rare, the IMD itself assigns a 22% probability of it occurring, which is just below the 40% probability of ‘normal’ rainfall. India is now moving to a system where medium range forecasts, or expected changes in monsoon or larger weather patterns over two weeks, are better captured by the monsoon models deployed. These inputs must be used by the Government to better prepare infrastructure in the eventuality that excessive rains can wipe out the potential gains for agriculture. It may also be worthwhile to encourage farmers to sow higher-value crops than only rice via the MSP route. The favourable tidings should not be an excuse to abandon caution.

The fact that the Bible has long lost its hold over the peoples of the West is frankly acknowledged by Mr. H.G. Wells. Writing in theSunday Timeson the salvaging of civilisation he says: “It has been the book that has held together the fabric of Western civilisation. It has been the handbook of life to countless millions of men and women. The civilisation we possess could not have come into existence and could not have been sustained without it. It has explained the world to the mass of our people and it has given them moral standards and a form into which their consciences could work. But does it do that to-day? Frankly, I do not think it does. I think that during the last century the Bible has lost much of its former hold. It no longer grips the community.” And according to him it has its lost hold because of those sundering eighteen centuries, because of profound changes in the methods and mechanisms of life, and because of the vast extension of our ideas by the development of science in the last century. In the opinion of Mr. Wells the Bible is not all that the West needs at the present day.

The West Bengal Chief Minister, Mr. Ajoy Mukherji, said here to-day [Calcutta, June 7] that the Army was not agreeable to take the entire charge of the administration of Bangla Desh evacuee camps. Mr. Mukherji, who discussed the issue yesterday at his residence with the Army Chief Gen. S.H.F.J. Manekshaw, said he was told that since the Army had many other jobs to perform it could not take the responsibility for administering the camps. He said the Centre had taken the entire financial burden. It would also lend the services of some senior Central officers. The State Government, however, would have to provide the major portion of the staff for running the camps as Bengali-speaking people would be helpful in the matter. He said that on the completion of construction of the camps outside the State, trains, trucks and aircraft would be transporting the evacuees there. Work on some camps in Bankura and Birbhum districts in the State was also in progress. He said accommodation of refugees had become the main problem with the onset of monsoon. The Government was experiencing extreme difficulty in procuring construction materials. Prices of articles were shooting up every day.