India swipe at Pak insistence on bringing initiatives under SAARC framework
GS Paper II
Topic: International Relations
Mains: The SAARC Secretariat composition
What’s the News?
Pakistan boycotted a video conference of trade officials of the SAARC countries, saying such initiatives could only be effective if spearheaded by the group’s secretariat instead of India.
The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) was established with the signing of the SAARC Charter in Dhaka on 8 December 1985.
Principal Organs of SAARC
- Meeting of Heads of State or Government: Meetings are held at the Summit level, usually on an annual basis.
- Standing Committee of Foreign Secretaries: The Committee provides overall monitoring and coordination, determines priorities, mobilizes resources, and approves projects and financing.
- Secretariat: The SAARC Secretariat was established in Kathmandu on 16 January 1987. Its role is to coordinate and monitor the implementation of SAARC activities, service the meetings of the association and serve as a channel of communication between SAARC and other international organizations.
- The Secretariat comprises the secretary-general, seven directors, and the general services staff.
- The secretary-general is appointed by the Council of Ministers on the principle of rotation, for a non-renewable tenure of three years.
- India said the degree of seriousness of each SAARC member-nation in collectively fighting COVID-19 can be gauged by their behaviour.
- The statement is in clear reference to Pakistan’s opposition to India’s leadership in dealing with the crisis in the region.
- New Delhi’s reaction comes a day after Pakistan pledged to contribute $3 million to SAARC Coronavirus Emergency Fund, but demanded that any initiative to deal with the situation must be brought under the bloc’s framework.
New Delhi maintains that initiatives taken under extraordinary circumstances are focused on jointly dealing with the pandemic without being bounded by any procedural formalities.
- In a video conference on forming a joint strategy to fight COVID-19 in the SAARC region, government proposed the emergency fund with an initial offer of $10 million from India.
- Subsequently, Nepal and Afghanistan pledged $1 million each, Maldives pledged $200,000, Bhutan $100,000, Bangladesh $1.5 million and Sri Lanka pledged to contribute $5 million to the fund.
- Assistance in material and services has been extended to Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka.
- These SAARC countries have also made early commitments to the Fund. The degree of seriousness of each nation can be gauged by their behaviour.
The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC):
- The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) was established with the signing of the SAARC Charter in Dhaka on 8 December 1985.
- The idea of regional cooperation in South Asia was first raised in November 1980. After consultations, the foreign secretaries of the seven founding countries—Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka—met for the first time in Colombo in April 1981.
- Afghanistan became the newest member of SAARC at the 13th annual summit in 2005.
- The Headquarters and Secretariat of the Association are at Kathmandu, Nepal.
- Cooperation within the framework of the SAARC shall be based on:
- Respect for the principles of sovereign equality, territorial integrity, political independence, non-interference in the internal affairs of other States and mutual benefit.
- Such cooperation shall not be a substitute for bilateral and multilateral cooperation but shall complement them.
- Such cooperation shall not be inconsistent with bilateral and multilateral obligations.
SAARC and its Importance:
- SAARC comprises 3% of the world’s area, 21% of the world’s population and 3.8% (US$2.9 trillion) of the global economy.
- Creating synergies: It is the world’s most densely populated region and one of the most fertile areas. SAARC countries have common tradition, dress, food and culture and political aspects thereby synergizing their actions.
- Common solutions: All the SAARC countries have common problems and issues like poverty, illiteracy, malnutrition, natural disasters, internal conflicts, industrial and technological backwardness, low GDP and poor socio-economic condition and uplift their living standards thereby creating common areas of development and progress having common solutions.
- Free Trade Area (FTA): SAARC is comparatively a new organization in the global arena. The member countries have established a Free Trade Area (FTA) which will increase their internal trade and lessen the trade gap of some states considerably.
- SAPTA: South Asia Preferential Trading Agreement for promoting trade amongst the member countries came into effect in 1995.
- SAFTA: A Free Trade Agreement confined to goods, but excluding all services like information technology. Agreement was signed to reduce customs duties of all traded goods to zero by the year 2016.
- SAARC Agreement on Trade in Services (SATIS): SATIS is following the GATS-plus ‘positive list’ approach for trade in services liberalization.
- SAARC University: Establish a SAARC university in India, a food bank and also an energy reserve in Pakistan.
‘Went to ICMR with rapid test idea, it said India system is foolproof’
GS Paper III
Topic: Science and Technology
Prelims: Rapid Antibody-based Test
Mains: Dangers associated with Rapid Antibody-based Test
What’s the News?
THE TAMIL Nadu government had approached Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) for permission to follow the ‘South Korea-China model’ of rapid tests, but ICMR said the real-time reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR)-based test being followed in India is more foolproof.
- Even as a Tablighi Jamaat congregation in the Capital has emerged as a common link between many COVID-19 positive cases, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) said on Tuesday that the “probability” of infection in India was still “very low” as compared to the US, now the global hotspot of the outbreak.
- ICMR said there were many differences between the outbreaks in India and the US.
Tamil Nadu Reaction:
Responding to allegations that Tamil Nadu had been reluctant to test an adequate number of samples for COVID-19, the Chief Secretary said the state is following guidelines laid down by the Centre.
Type of Tests:
There are two types of tests that are used to diagnose the coronavirus disease. These are the Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) and the Rapid Antibody-based Test.
Rapid Antibody-based Test vs. RT-PCR Test
- The Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) Test determines if a person has a virus even before the symptoms occur. DOH considers this method as the most accurate.
- The Rapid Antibody-based Test or Immunologic method, on the other hand, determines the presence of an antibody after a person exhibits the symptoms. It provides a result with limited certainty and is not used to confirm the coronavirus disease.
- RT-PCR Test is preferred because it determines the exact virus before a person show symptoms.
- Meanwhile, the Rapid Antibody-based Test only determines the presence of antibodies which only shows after infection. It could give a False Negative result in asymptomatic persons.
Rapid Antibody-based Test danger:
- The Rapid Antibody-based Test may provide this kind of result to persons who do not show any symptoms.
- This could give a wrong sense of security to the person with COVID-19 who is not infected with the disease.
- It is dangerous because the person is unaware that he or she is infected and can infect other people as well.
- Before these rapid tests can be recommended, they must be validated in the appropriate populations and settings. They should not be used in any other setting, including for clinical decision-making, until evidence supporting use for specific indications is available,” WHO has said in a scientific brief dated April 8.
- India is currently in the process of introducing rapid antibody tests in some settings. It is faster than the usual nucleic acid-based test for the virus- a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test. The rapid test takes less than 30 minutes.
- However, only the PCR test is capable of identifying an early infection. Only after the antibodies have developed, which takes several days, can the serological test come in. Even for serological tests, the positives will have to go through the PCR filter.
- Rapid Antibody-based test kits serve only as a complementary test kit to evaluate if a patient is already free of coronavirus infection after undergoing the required 14-day quarantine.
- Person with positive results using the Rapid Antibody-based Test need to be isolated and samples will be taken for RT-PCR testing. It is only when the PCR testing registers positive that the person will be declared a COVID-19 case.
- It is only when the RT-PCR Test returned a negative result that the person can be considered free of COVID-19 infection.
- Till date, 16 antibody-based rapid tests have been validated at NIV Pune,
- On rapid tests based on detection of antibodies, WHO says: “Based on current data, WHO does not recommend the use of antibody-detecting rapid diagnostic tests for patient care but encourages the continuation of work to establish their usefulness in disease surveillance and epidemiologic research.”
GS Paper III
Topic: Indian economy
Mains: lockdown effect on agriculture
What’s the News?
Even as the 21-day lockdown till April 14 appears set to be extended by two weeks, both the Centre and the states are agreed that the blanket restrictions on production and movement will not apply to farm-related work.
Lockdown effect on Agriculture:
- Indian agriculture sector, which suffered recently due to uneven monsoon, will face another hit due to disruptions from the coronavirus. As Rabi harvest season approaches, farmers worry about their standing crops.
- Farmers growing wheat, mustard and pulses already complained about their crops damage due to untimely and heavy rainfall recently.
- This led to farmers fixing their crops but amid Coronavirus lockdown most of the labourers available fled to their homes.
Focus on Agriculture:
- Agriculture would, indeed, be the most significant, if not the only, economic activity the country might see at least till the end of this month.
- The government’s focus, too, will now have to be as much on the rabi crop’s harvesting and marketing as on keeping the war against the novel coronavirus going. But harvesting per se is unlikely to be a problem.
- The bulk of the mustard, chana (chickpea), masur (red lentil), sugarcane, potato and rabi onions have already been harvested. It’s only wheat and some seasonal vegetables (the likes of bottle gourd, okra, brinjal and cucumber) and fruit (mango and melons) that are still in the fields.
- Harvesting of rabi maize, summer moong (green gram) or even Dasheri, Chaunsa and Langra mangoes will only be after May.
The challenge is going to be with the crop’s marketing. There are two major issues here.
- The first is the keeping of social distancing in the mandis, which are normally a hive of activity at this time, when farmers in thousands bring their trolley-loads of produce to sell.
- Lack of labourers: Even if farmers were to come, there aren’t enough labourers in wholesale markets —predominantly from states such as Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, who have fled back home — to unload, clean, bag and reload their crop.
- The collapse of demand and lack of institutional buyers: With hotels, restaurants, caterers and most agro-processing units shut, the market cannot absorb a bumper crop — a situation similar to that during April-June 2017 post demonetisation. Then, it was lack of cash. Now, it is lack of institutional buyers.
- If overcrowding at the mandis is not to be allowed, farmers have to be given some incentive for not bringing their entire harvested crop straight from the field.
- There is a strong case to give, say, a bonus of Rs 50 over the minimum support price of Rs 1,925 per quintal for wheat that is sold after April 30 and Rs 100 if after May 30.
- Not only will this enable staggered crop arrivals, there would also be interest savings for the Food Corporation of India through reduced drawdown of cash credit limits.
- This is also the time for the government to enact an omnibus law to remove all restrictions on sale, stocking, movement and export of farm produce. Coronavirus can do for agriculture what 1991 did for industry and services.
Any decision on extending coronavirus lockdown must be based on extreme circumspection, realistic cost-benefit analysis
GS Paper II
Topic: Indian Governance
Mains: Efficacy of lockdown and Social distancing
What’s the News?
- As the country approaches the end of its nationwide lockdown on April 14, one question dominates national discourse: Should India extend the lockdown?
- Never before has India confronted a public policy dilemma that impacts the lives and fates of millions so critically.
Choosing between lives or livelihood:
- A number of states have already announced extension of the lockdown till the end of the month; more are expected to do so.
- In the first flush of the pandemic, when the world’s experts and governments were scrambling to come to terms with its etiology and effects, as well as the appropriate policy response, many countries, including India, opted to erect a barrier of containment by locking down the population.
- The trade-off seemed simple enough — a choice between saving lives or livelihoods. Unsurprisingly, every country, barring Sweden, chose to save lives. This set a powerful precedent for India.
Consequences of lockdown:
- The unprecedented surge in unemployment levels, emerging widespread farm and rural distress, and incipient starvation even as harvests wilt in the fields.
- Food and medical supply chains are broken in parts, and even hospitals are closed in a few small towns, at a time when their need has never been greater.
- If the lockdown is extended, ensuring access to livelihoods and sustenance for all is becoming a challenge.
- As days pass, the trade-off is looking increasingly complex and open to challenge, given the life-threatening consequences of that.
Efficacy of universal lockdown:
- India’s present lockdown has been rated as the severest in the world and the most disruptive by far, impacting a seventh of the world’s population.
- A significant number of reputed global health experts are beginning to question the validity of initial assumptions about the nature of the illness, and the efficacy of radical remedial strategies such as lockdown.
- Lockdowns can indeed reduce mortality rates by flattening the infection curve, thereby ensuring an even distribution of cases.
- But much depends on how effectively we are able to use the intervening time available — to train personnel as well as procure the requisite devices, supplies and protective equipment, amongst other things.
We can no longer go solely on the basis of international precedent. Nor can our sole consideration be to halt the pandemic, no matter the cost.
- In place of a one-size-fits-all lockdown, there can be graded containment strategies that can be fine-tuned against three vectors:
- Geographic, depending on the varying locational intensity of the disease;
- Vulnerability-oriented, with differing containment strategies for more vulnerable sections like the aged; and
- Sectoral, with a more liberal containment regime in place for essential activities like agriculture.
- Whatever decision we take, we must keep foremost the impact of the lockdown on the poorest and the most vulnerable: For it is they who are likely to bear the brunt.
- Most importantly, any decision must be preceded by the widest possible public consultation. For, collective knowledge and reason alone can illumine these dark times.