Coronabonds 

#GS3 #Economy 

The coronavirus pandemic has revived the acrimonious debate between euro zone countries about jointly issuing debt to meet healthcare needs and address the deep economic downturn that is set to follow. 

  • Nine of the 19 countries that use the single currency called on March 25 for a common debt instrument issued by a European institution to fight the outbreak and its effects. 
  • The idea of such debt, called “coronabonds”, was rejected by Germany, the Netherlands, Finland and Austria, fiscally “frugal” northern states wary of pooling liabilities with what they see as more spendthrift countries in southern Europe. 
  • The idea of joint debt issuance was previously raised by Italy, during the 2009 global financial crisis, and by France and Italy in 2012, at the peak of the euro zone’s sovereign debt crisis, and dismissed by Berlin and its allies.  
  • But ideas are likely to evolve and deepen as the current crisis prompts more discussion. 

Existing possibility of Euro Zone jointly issued debt 

  • The euro zone jointly issues debt through its bailout fund, the European Stability Mechanism, which borrows on the market against the security of its paid-in and callable capital provided by euro zone governments. 
  • The fund, together with its predecessor EFSF, issued such debt to bail out Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Cyprus and Spain during the sovereign debt crisis.  
  • It can and probably will now offer standby credit lines, called ECCL, of up to 2% of a country’s gross domestic product or 240 billion euros in total, to all euro zone countries. 

Existing possibility of European Union jointly issued debt 

  • The European Commission issued debt through the European Financial Stability Mechanism (EFSM) to help fund the bailouts of Greece, Ireland and Portugal and give balance of payments help to Latvia, Hungary and Romania. 
  • EFSM debt is backed by all 27 European Union countries through the bloc’s joint long-term budget. 
  • It can, and probably will, issue 100 billion euros of debt backed by 25 billion euros of guarantees from member states, to finance wage subsidies in all EU countries as part of a short-time work scheme modelled on the German “Kurzarbeit” plan. 

Existing European Investment Bank (EIB) borrowing 

  • The EIB, the investment arm of the EU, is owned by EU governments and issues around 60 billion euros of debt every year to lend for various projects in the bloc. 

DST supported healthcare startup developing rapid test for detection of COVID-19 

#GS3 #Science #Technology 

The Department of Science & Technology has funded ‘Module Innovations”, a Pune based healthcare startup working on point of care diagnostics to build up on its platform technology for rapid diagnosis of diseases to develop a product for detecting COVID 19 with a 10 to 15 minute test. 

  • Using the proven concept from its flagship product USense, Module is now developing nCoVSENSEs (TM) which is a rapid test device for detection of antibodies that have been generated against the COVID 19 in the human body. 
  • The current confirmatory method of Real-Time Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) though a gold standard is costly, takes longer time and needs trained manpower. This new rapid test will help manage the problem in a more efficient way at a lesser cost. 
  • The nCoVSENSe test is aimed at detecting the IgG and IgM antibodies generated in the human body upon the onset of viral infection and is targeted against the Spike proteins making it specific for COVID 19. 

Commerce Ministry designs online platform to issue certificate of origin for exporters 

#GS3 #Economy 

The Commerce Ministry created an online platform to issue key documents required for exports to countries with which India has trade agreements.  

  • It is designed as a single-point access for all Free Trade Agreements (FTAs), Preferential Trade Agreements (PTAs), all designated Certificate of Origin (CoO) issuing agencies and for all export products to facilitate shipment during the COVID-19 crisis. 
  • The designated agencies will issue digitally signed electronic CoO only and no hard copy will be provided. 
  • Export Certificates from India to Chile under the PTA  
  • Export to Nepal under South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) and South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Preferential Trading Arrangement (SAPTA)  
  • Export to Korea under the India-Korea Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement have already been applied and issued through this online platform. 
  • India has implemented such agreements with regions including ASEAN, Singapore, South Korea, Japan, Sri Lanka, Thailand, South Asian Free Trade Area, and Asia-Pacific Trade Agreement. 

What is a CoO? 

  • This is a document that states in which country a product is produced or good is manufactured, contains information about the product, its destination and the country of exporting & helps determine whether certain goods are eligible for import or are subject to goods obligations.  
  • An exporter has to submit CoO at the importing country’s landing port & is important to claim duty concessions under FTAs. 

States told to curb black marketing 

#GS2 #Acts  

  • State Chief Secretaries to ensure the availability of essential goods by invoking the Essential Commodities Act, 1955. 
  • Offences under the Act may result in imprisonment of seven years or fine or both. The States and the Union Territories may also consider detention of offenders under the Prevention of Black marketing and Maintenance of Supplies of Essential Commodities Act, 1980. 

About 

  • The Essential Commodities Act is an act of Parliament of India which was established to ensure the delivery of certain commodities or products, the supply of which if obstructed owing to hoarding or blackmarketing would affect the normal life of the people.  
  • This includes foodstuff, drugs, fuel (petroleum products) etc. The ECA was enacted in 1955. It has since been used by the Government to regulate the production, supply and distribution of a whole host of commodities it declares ‘essential’ in order to make them available to consumers at fair prices.  
  • Additionally,the government can also fix the maximum retail price (MRP) of any packaged product that it declares an “essential commodity”. 
  • The list of items under the Act include drugs, fertilisers, pulses and edible oils, and petroleum and petroleum products. The Centre can include new commodities as and when the need arises, and take them off the list once the situation improves. 

‘Importance of soft power is increasing globally’ 

#GS1 #Culture 

We believe that centrality of cultural ties will promote our diplomatic, strategic and economic relationship: ICCR chief 

  • Indian Council for Cultural Relations(ICCR) was established when there was neither the concept of soft power nor was the term in use. Naturally then, the activities were limited in terms of their number and their diverse character as well.  
  • Majorly, it was about scholarships to foreign students, cultural exchanges involving artistes and youths as also establishing some Chairs in some universities etc. Now, we are in a world where every nation wants to influence and occupy the mind space of the global community and thereby add to its prowess.  
  • In a way the limitations of military might are now more obvious and hence the importance of soft power is increasing. A plan to start academic programmes like an Understanding India course, cultural exchange between future leaders, mainstreaming of our traditional artisans through exchange with similar artisans abroad and converting Chairs into full-fledged India Study Centres abroad. 
  • Firstly we are utilising this time for preparing to make a new beginning in some areas of academic courses through a more structured system of knowledge dissemination and evaluation as well as certification.  
  • Secondly, with the ‘Show Must Go On’ spirit, we have successfully started conducting e-tutorials and classes on a wide range of subjects including classical dances, Hindi, Sanskrit and even Yoga. 
  • Thirdly, in the wake of all pervading gloom and tensions as a result of pandemic, we have announced a global painting competition and also an essay competition for NRIs and alumni of Indian institutions. We always believe that centrality of cultural relations will eventually promote our diplomatic, strategic as well as economic relationships. 

U.P. to seal virus hotspots in 15 districts 

#GS2 #Governance 

Officials asked to ensure 100% home delivery; shops and vegetable markets not to be allowed to open 

  • The Uttar Pradesh government decided to completely seal COVID-19 hotspots within 15 districts till the end of the lockdown on April 14. The government listed 100 such hotspots spread across 15 districts, including Lucknow, Noida, Ghaziabad, Agra, Varanasi and Meerut. 
  • The district-wise hotspots to be sealed stood as — Agra (22 hotspots), Ghaziabad (13), Noida (12), Kanpur (12), Shamli (3), Meerut (7) including some rural areas, Varanasi (4), Bareilly (1), Bulandshahr (3), Basti (3), Firozabad (3), Saharanpur (4), Maharajganj (4), Lucknow (12) including 8 major ones, and Sitapur (1). 
  • The “affected areas” in these 15 districts, which have reported six or more positive cases, should be “completely sealed” to make the lockdown secure, the State’s top official Rajendra Kumar Tiwari said in instructions to District Police and administrative heads. 
  • Officials were asked to ensure 100% home delivery in affected areas. Shops and vegetable mandis would also not be allowed to open, so there is strict implementation of lockdown and social distancing. 
  • The complete lockdown system was first implemented in some areas of Agra and it produced “good results”. However, by the time his statement arrived, people had already started queuing up outside shops, ration stores and medical stores to purchase essential items.  
  • Panic buying was reported even from areas which did not feature among the list of hotspots as the government did not announce the names. Some wondered how the government would execute doorstep delivery of food and medicine in dense localities. 

Centre rolls out steps for women’s safety 

#GS2 #Women&ChildrenWelfare 

Minister urges activists to establish connect to send message of solidarity with those in distress 

  • The government and its machinery are working for women who seek protection, the appeal comes at a time gender rights activists and the U.N. have called for the need to boost helplines, psycho-social support and online counselling as well as demanded that these be declared essential services so that women in distress can continue to access help.  
  • The National Commission of Women has recorded a more than two-fold rise in domestic violence and sexual assaults and a three-fold increase in cases of police apathy in the first week of lockdown since March 24. 
  • to ensure that One Stop Centres, which provide legal and psycho-social help to survivors of gender-based violence, are linked with local medical teams, police and the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) so that their services are not impacted due to restrictions on movement. 
  • Between March 20 and March 31, the helpline recorded a total of 4.3 lakh calls — 50% more than the average. Nearly 30% reported instances of abuse and violence, either experienced first hand or on behalf of a child survivor, as lockdown leaves children confined to their homes, rendering them vulnerable to physical and sexual violence, a majority of which take place within homes and families. 
  • Significantly, many who called the helpline also sought information related to availability of food and shelter. These calls were made for missing and runaway children, children stranded due to the lockdown as well as children of unemployed and migrant labourers who found themselves displaced. 

Counselling help 

  • “One Stop Centre teams must also be linked with NIMHANS,” Union Women and Child Development Minister Smriti Irani suggested to equip counsellors across the country to deal with the unique problems faced by women. 
  • One in every three calls made to the emergency helpline for children, ChildLine 1098, days before and during the nation-wide lockdown sought protection from abuse and sexual violence. 

Armyworm attack adds to Assam farmers’ woes 

#GS3 #Environment #Agriculture 

Caterpillar eats 80 species of plants 

  • Officials of the Directorate of Agriculture said farmers in northeastern Dhemaji district reported armyworm attack on the standing crops. The armyworm caterpillar, the larval stage of several species of moths, has a voracious appetite. Entomologists say it feeds on more than 80 species of plants. 
  • Fortunately, the summer paddy crop had been more or less harvested across the State when the lockdown started on March 25. The armyworm attack has been on patches where harvesting was not completed. 
  • The pre-monsoon rains have eluded Assam so far. The temperature is quite high now, and the armyworm can cause more damage if there is no rain. A major issue agriculture officials have been facing is reaching out to farmers. Fear of contracting the virus has made villagers block access roads and all other gaps, not letting outsiders — even buyers of their produce — to come in and residents to go out. 

NGOs can buy FCI grains to provide cooked food 

#GS2 #Governance #NGOs 

  • In order to facilitate cooked food distribution at privately-run relief camps during the lockdown due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the Food Ministry has allowed NGOs and charitable organisations to directly buy wheat and rice from the Food Corporation of India at Open Market Sale Scheme rates without going through the e-auction process. 
  • So far, only State governments and registered bulk users like roller flour mills were allowed to do so. Now, philanthropic organisations can purchase 1 to 10 metric tonnes at a time at the predetermined reserve prices and lift the grains from FCI’s 2,000-odd godowns across the country, according to a Food Ministry statement. 
  • District administrations will be kept informed of the details of lifting of foodgrains by NGOs to ensure that it is used for the intended purpose of providing cooked food to the poor and needy. 

Personnel from Herat, Jalalabad return 

#GS3 #Pandemic 

Contingency plans in place to bring back staff from Kabul too, if such a situation rises 

  • India brought back 56 staff members and Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) personnel from Afghanistan on an Indian Air Force (IAF) aircraft on Tuesday night, effectively winding down the operations at its consulates in Herat and Jalalabad, in view of the novel coronavirus spread and growing security threats. 
  • Official sources said the government had received a series of cables with inputs from different intelligence agencies on the probability of attacks on “international targets” in Afghanistan, including Indian missions. 
  • In Herat, the lack of medical facilities was a particular worry, but specific security threats to the Jalalabad consulate after the ISKP’s attack on a gurdwara in Kabul, which left 25 dead, hastened the decision, the officials said. Security officials also believe that the Indian mission in Kabul may have been the intended original target for the ISKP attackers, who included an Indian national from Kerala. 

ISI connection 

  • The arrest and interrogation of ISKP leader Abdullah Orakzai, a Pakistani national, by the National Directorate of Security on April 4 has confirmed the apprehensions that the ISKP is linked to “regional intelligence agencies”, namely Pakistan’s ISI, Afghan officials indicated. 
  • The C-130 took off from the Hindon airbase on April 6 and flew to Herat overnight after a halt at Jamnagar. It returned on the evening of April 7 carrying the personnel, after taking “full precautions” against COVID-19, for which the IAF personnel undertaking the operation were specially prepared, the sources added. 
  • It has been learnt that contingency plans are in place to bring back staff from Kabul too, if such a situation arises. India also has consulates in Mazar-e-Sharif and Kandahar, which continue to function as of now. 

Poaching, not virus, is the bigger threat, says tiger expert 

#GS3 #Environment #Wildlife 

If we fail to stop the killing of prey animals such as deer during the lockdown, big cat populations will suffer, says Ullas Karanth 

  • Wildlife scientist Ullas Karanth, an expert on tiger conservation, has cautioned that a spurt in poaching during the lockdown period poses a greater threat to wildlife than the coronavirus. 
  • The warning came after the advisory issued by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) and the Wildlife Division of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change for immediate preventive measures to stop the spread of the virus from humans to animals and vice versa in national parks, sanctuaries and tiger reserves. 
  • The issue was being blown out of proportion because of the media focus, although this could be attributed to genuine concern. This specific virus was known to affect domestic cats and it came as no surprise that tigers could get it too. 
  • Wild tiger populations had high birth rates and high annual mortality rates and the coronavirus-related threats were highly unlikely to cause population declines. But the real threat to tigers was posed by a surge in local poaching of prey species during the lockdown. 
  • Responding to the issue, Karnataka Forest Department officials said they had taken precautionary measures while handling captive animals, without relaxing anti-poaching activities. 
  • The one reported from Bandipur took place in an adjoining reserve forest. This being fire season, there were 400 fire watchers in Bandipur besides field staff and another 400 watchers in Nagarahole, two famous tiger reserves, and the added staff would deter poachers. 

Centre concerned over polarisation on religious lines 

#GS1 #Culture 

  • The Centre has expressed serious concern over the “polarising of public opinion on religious lines” against the backdrop of a particular community being targeted as being responsible for the spread of COVID-19 in the country. 
  • The Union government said a sizeable number of non-Muslims was getting a perception that a particular community was not taking the pandemic very seriously and not complying with the lockdown conditions and prohibitory orders. 
  • This situation was further aggravated by various media projections and social media posts appealing public to refrain from purchasing fruits/vegetables/grocery items from sellers belonging to the said community. This had also triggered a strong resentment against them in northeastern States. 
  • Such targeting of a particular community and its religious organisations would lead to communal polarisation. Strict action should be taken against any person posting fake/provocative posts in the social media, it said. 
  • Local community leaders should be called upon to motivate the people for better compliance of the lockdown norms and also to strengthen congenial feelings between the communities. 
  • The Tamil Nadu police have already put in place a model where Tablighi Jamaat has appointed volunteers in all districts to facilitate in identifying and quarantining Delhi returnees along with their family members. 

Virus hits both genders equally, except in 2 nations 

#GS3 #Pandemic 

76% of confirmed cases in India, and 72% in Pakistan are men 

  • In a striking contrast with many countries, men in India more than women appear disproportionately likely to test positive for COVID- 19, an analysis of global data shows. 
  • On April 6, the Health Ministry said 76% of the confirmed cases in India were men. That day, the total number of confirmed cases stood at 4,506. 
  • Many countries — including the United Kingdom and the United States — while publicising data on cases and death rates don’t have sex-segregated national data. However, data from 40 countries, which do share such data and compiled by GlobalHealth5050, an independent research initiative that tracks gender and health, suggest that the gender-split in all countries is roughly 50-50, barring two exceptions: India and Pakistan. 72% of our neighbour’s 4,004 cases have been confirmed in men. 
  • Another unusual exception was South Korea — the country that has conducted the maximum number of tests as a proportion of population — in that more women tested positive than man, 60% of its 10,000 cases. 
  • However, men in all countries were significantly more likely — almost twice — to die than women, though this data point is available for only 18 countries. India hasn’t yet shared national figures on COVID-19 mortality rates in men and women. 

Post lockdown, CII for phased reopening 

#GS3 #Economy 

Says priority must be given to mass employment sectors 

  • Amid talks over over extending the 21-day nationwide lockdown, the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) has suggested to the government to follow a phased reopening plan with sectors such as manufacturing and construction, that provide mass employment, re-started first. 
  • The CII also sought a fiscal support package for FY21 limited to 2% of the GDP to support the lowest strata and the informal sector and ₹2 lakh crore be transferred to JAM account holders. 
  • The CII, however, also cautioned that it was important to safeguard the macro fundamentals to ensure India did not suffer significant rating downgrades and a potential flight of capital. 
  • For lifting the lockdown, the industry body has pitched for a “re-start calendar” across cities and States, based on a dashboard that can monitor curves of various key cities and States. In phase 1, it said sectors where work-from-home is difficult and which provide mass employment could be re-started to protect low-wage employment. They include manufacturing and transport. 
  • In phase 2, which could start 2-3 weeks after phase 1, other sectors could be allowed to start. “The ramp up could be 50% employees to start with, for about three weeks. This could be increased gradually, based on how the curves are progressing in various cities and States.” 
  • Truck drivers and migrant workers willing to come back should be facilitated, dhabas on highways petrol/diesel stations and repair shops on highways should be opened, it said, adding logistics service providers must extend insurance cover of about ₹10-15 lakh for a period of three months to the workers and their families. 

Higher credit limit 

  • On relief for businesses, the CII said rather than the government giving direct subsidies to industry, enterprises should be supported through banks via enhanced credit limits for working capital, additional working capital limits — equivalent to April-June wage bill of the borrowers, backed by a government guarantee at 4-5% with a refinance guarantee from the RBI. Additional reconstruction term loans can be given to MSMEs and stressed sectors. 
  • Stating the economy cannot afford a bank collapse, the CII proposed the government set up a fund of ₹30,000 crore “that could be used by banks that meet certain criteria and under specified conditions.” 

Rupee falls 70 paise as virus cases spike sharply 

#GS3 #Economy 

Crude price increase adds to pressure 

  • The rupee declined 70 paisa against the dollar on Wednesday following a sharp rise in the number of COVID-19 cases in the country, which could prompt the government to delay the lifting of nationwide lockdown. 
  • The rupee, which opened at 75.83 a dollar, as compared to its previous close of 75.64, depreciated further and went close to its all-time low of 76.38, touching the day’s low of 76.36. 

Dollar index impact 

  • The rupee ended the day at 76.34 a dollar, down 70 paisa, or 0.92%, than its previous close. The rise in crude prices and strengthening of the dollar index also added pressure on the rupee. 
  • The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) reduced the timing of market hours for call money market, government securities market and currency market. These have been functioning between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. since April 7.  
  • The shortened market hours will continue till April 17. The decision was taken to avoid undue volatility in the markets caused by thin volumes due to the nationwide lockdown. 

Govt. caps spending amid cash crunch 

#GS3 #Economy 

However, departments deemed crucial in fight against virus will not be affected 

  • With the Centre expecting an extreme cash crunch due to the COVID-19 crisis, most Central government departments have been asked to cut their first quarter expenditure to 15-20% of the year’s budget estimates (BE). 
  • Departments considered crucial to dealing with the pandemic and the resultant lockdown will not be affected by these restrictions, including Health, Pharma and Ayush, Agriculture, Rural Development and Textiles, Food and Consumer Affairs, as well as Civil Aviation and Railways. Transfers to States will also not be reduced. 
  • However, several development sector Ministries including those dealing with education, tribal welfare, women and children, social justice and labour have been asked to restrict expenditure to 15% of BE. 
  • Existing guidelines for expenditure control have been reviewed. Keeping in view the present situation arising out of the COVID-19 and the consequential lockdown, it is expected that the cash position of government may be stressed in Q1 (April to June 2020). Considering this, it is essential to regulate the government expenditure and to fix the Quarterly Expenditure Plan (QEP) / Monthly Expenditure Plan (MEP) of specific Ministries/Departments. 
  •  Large expenditures are already subject to the expenditure control guidelines of August 2017 which says prior permission is required for any single payment above ₹5,000 crore. 
  • The economic slowdown had already spurred the Finance Ministry to cap spending in the last quarter of 2019-20 (January-March 2020) to 25% of BE, from the earlier 33%. 
  • The circular lists 17 key demands for grants and appropriations that will not be affected by the restrictions. 
  • Another 31 departments have been asked to restrict expenditure to 20% of BE. This includes the Cabinet, the Houses of Parliament and Police. The Ministries of Home, External Affairs and some departments of Defence and Finance are also included in this category, as are transfers to union territories, including Delhi. 
  • The largest category of 52 departments have been told to restrict quarterly expenditure to 15% of BE. 
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