Daily Editorial Analysis for 30th March 2020

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  5. Daily Editorial Analysis for 30th March 2020

Protecting those who are protecting us

Paper: II

For Prelims: Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA).

For Mains: Government Policies and Interventions for Development in various sectors and Issues arising out of their Design and Implementation.

Context of News:

  • Given the initial uncertainty and panic following the PM’s announcements, the move to ensure that supply lines for essential items food, medicine and goods and services essential for agriculture, among others is a necessary one. However, it will not do to forget that those actually involved in keeping these supply chains going are as vulnerable to COVID-19 as anyone else, that being part of an “essential service” also makes a citizen more vulnerable to exposure.

Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA):

  • The Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) is an act of Parliament of India which was established to ensure the delivery of certain services, which if obstructed would affect the normal life of the people. This include services like public transport (bus services), health services (doctors and hospitals).
  • ESMA provisions give police the right to arrest anyone without a warrant who are found violating the Act’s provisions. The Act mandates imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year to any person who instigates a strike which is illegal under this Act.
  • As far as the preceding section is concerned, the essential services are communication, water supply, the distribution of gas or electricity for street lighting and household purposes, medicines, hospitals and all those having a similar nature.

What is the domestic availability situation in foodstuffs?

  • There’s no real issue as far as production or supply goes for most agri-commodities, starting with food grains. As on March 1, stocks of wheat and rice with the Food Corporation of India (FCI) stood at around 77.6 million tonnes (mt). This was over three-and-a-half times the minimum operational buffer-cum-strategic stock of 21.04 mt required to be maintained for April 1. Moreover, the new wheat crop, which is a bumper one, will arrive in the mandis from the coming month.
  • As far as Pulses is concered, according to the National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India, Nafed was holding 2.25 mt of stocks as on March 19. This, even as fresh market arrivals of rabi (winter-spring) pulses such as chana (chickpea), masur (red lentils) and matar (field pea) have started.
  • Stuff like milk, sugar and edible oils:
  • These, again, are produce not brought to be sold in mandis. Dairies procure milk directly from farmers or through bulk vendors. The sugar that mills produce similarly comes from cane sourced straight from growers. Two-thirds of the edible oil consumed by India is imported.
  • In the current lockdown situation, there are actually mitigating factors on the supply requirement front, particularly for the three food items. The most important of them is the demand destruction due to shutting down of HORECA (hotels, restaurants and catering) businesses. With hardly any business-to-business (B2B) sales happening, the demand for milk products, sugar and edible oil is now only in the business-to-consumer segment.

Food products whose supplies are being affected?

  • Basically perishable items like ,fruits and vegetables (F&V), which are produce sold through APMC mandis.Such closures are, however, more likely in terminal markets close to cities than the primary APMCs, where the bulk of farmers bring their produce.
  • Right now, the fear of the pandemic is less in rural areas, however there is possibility of 25-30% harvesting labour shortage in the coming days. According to him, many migrant labourers have fled to their villages in Bihar, which will hit cane harvesting when crushing operations in UP are at a peak.

What Government should do to Protect Supply management persons from Covid-19?

  • Complex supply chains for food items involve a large number of people interacting and handling produce, increasing the risk of a COVID-19 infection, as well as its spread to the general public. so, awareness comes into existence, making people aware about way of handling food stuffs will reduce the chances of infection spreading.
  • Given the country’s population and inadequate medical infrastructure has been to follow the “Italy model” rather than the “South Korea model”. While the former relies on isolation, social distancing and quarantines, the latter also includes mass testing. So far, it also appears that the number of positive corona virus cases emerging from various states is directly proportionate to how much they have been testing. Now, it is time for government to go for aggressive testing in India.
  • Wherever possible, protective gear must be provided and protocols for testing and immediate quarantines, where necessary, must be put in place. This will not be an easy task ,it will require monitoring and raising awareness about symptoms and self-isolation, in the field, from those involved in transport to mandis and warehouses to the retailer and the vegetable vendor.

Way Forward:

  • Moving forward, the task for governments at the Centre and in the states is twofold. First, they must ensure that the representatives of the state on the ground the police and other civic administration officials do not harass or obstruct those who work at great risk to themselves, for the greater good during the lockdown.
  • Second, and perhaps more importantly, every precaution must be taken to ensure that those working on every link of the supply chain are protected against the virus.
  • Ensuring free movement of farm produce, livestock feed and veterinary medicines. It is obvious that not all issues can be addressed overnight. But the minimum the government can do is to ensure ground-level implementation of already-taken decisions. Many essential services, for instance, were kept out of the purview of the lockdown. Food, feed and agricultural inputs have been specifically notified as essential services. But there are several problems at the level of implementation that are coming to notice.
  • Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) be invoked for the delivery of all essential services relating to food to prevent disruption of supplies. Right now, many are unable to run their dairies or mills to the necessary capacity because of staff shortage, an outcome of the lockdown. Companies that are in a position to provide food and accommodation, and within factory premises, should be given the powers to deploy the minimum necessary staff for production.

War on COVID-19 is infringing on citizens’ right to privacy

Paper: II

For Mains: Government Policies and Interventions for Development in various sectors and Issues arising out of their Design and Implementation.

Context of News:

  • In times of crisis, governments may curb fundamental rights in the national or public interest. During World War II, for instance, the right to free speech was reduced British installations were plastered with a poster that read, “Careless talk costs lives,” and the people of a blisteringly outspoken nation agreed that the curb was necessary.
  • This leads us to question, national interest vs. right to privacy.

National Interest:

  • It is the interest of a nation as a whole held to be an independent entity separate from the interests of subordinate areas or groups and also of other nations or supranational groups. In this case, it seems to be a fair decision to trade off citizen’s privacy for national security.

How Government is breaching Privacy of Citizens amid Covid-19 outbreak?

  • Details of 722 airline passengers who landed in Delhi in March are being shared online, some state governments are revealing the identities of the quarantined and the Corona Kavach app released by the government, which evaluates the risk status of users and informs them of the proximity of potential carriers, is in public beta. In addition, the quarantined (who may be negative) have been stamped with indelible ink and their phone GPS is monitored.
  • Doctor-patient confidentiality is being breached and data is shared on digital networks, apparently to contain the pandemic. India does not respect the right to be forgotten, digital data remains etched in silicon, and may determine the social status and health insurance burden of the quarantined in the future.

Privacy vs. National Interest:

  • Despite a general consensus on the value of privacy, many argue it has limits or rather it must have some restrictions. If the government is able to maintain the right balance between privacy and security enabling the authorities to keep tabs on personal information, without giving them carte blanche to snoop on citizens. For those in favour of compromising on privacy for the sake of national security, the key point is that seeking such information is no big deal given the rationale behind it.  In other words, privacy might be important, but is it so important that we should risk national and international security rather than compromise a little?
  • Even the supreme court of India quoted that “Right to privacy can never be an absolute entitlement.” But, it is important to remember that both privacy, as well as security, is important for different reasons.
  1. National security is important because we are and will be protected as a whole.
  2. On the other hand, our privacy is important as well because everyone wants to keep their personal business to their self’s, or at least have the opinion to keep it that way.
  3. People should be able to have their own personal privacy without worrying that it’ll be interrupted. National security is important so that people will know they are and will be protected without worry. What is to be done is maintaining the right balance and a reasonable compromise between privacy and security. Well, as many say, “We should be willing to compromise our privacy in the interests of national and international security”
  • Privacy eradication for the masses, coupled with privacy for the rich, will, as always, help to perpetuate status-quo laws / standards / establishments, and encourage parasitism, corruption, and crony capitalism.

Why Government Must be Given Upper hand for National Security in comparison to Privacy?

  • Unregulated domain:
  • Social media platforms are self-regulated as government does not regulate content appearing on social network platforms; hence ‘due diligence’ is need of the hour for social media.
  • Fake news is a new challenge for law enforcement agencies as many lynching incidents reported in 2018 were triggered by fake news being circulated through Whatsapp and other social media sites
  • Organised crime:
  • Social media has become a tool for facilitating organized crime i.e. to commit and provoke extremism, money laundering, violence and crime.
  • Neutralising terrorist activities Surveillance would help in countering possible terrorist activities by offering better information on potential terror attacks.
  • Misuse of privacy clause:
  • Until now, it was not possible to trace the origin of a message given the privacy settings of companies. However, the government has sought “technical innovation” from the company to address the issue. The regulations are justified as they strike a pragmatic balance between the competing values of privacy and security.
  • Lack of cooperation of the social media companies, the inability to pressurise these companies since they are located overseas and the lack of proper mutual legal assistance treaties are just some of the issues that come up.
  • Privacy concerns weakening the ability of our counter-terrorism and intelligence units to stay a step ahead in the darkening digital world would have grave long-term consequences.
    Furthermore, measures taken to curb the efforts of the government to collect and analyse data, the primary raw material of our digital economy—while a handful of private corporations colonise the bulk of the planet’s generated data—would undermine the state’s ability to provide quality citizen services, which in turn could create turbulent.

Way Forward:

  • There is a need to strike a balance between individual’s privacy rights and the State’s responsibilities at a time when the nation faces threats of terrorism and money laundering and to keep a tab on welfare expenditure.
  • Constant surveillance systematically chills and dissuades people from experimenting with new ideas and expressing contentious thoughts, privacy is no longer a personal luxury. People who say they don’t care about privacy because they have got nothing to hide have not thought too deeply about these issues — that’s how Edward Snowden put it. “What they are really saying is ‘I do not care about this right.’ When you say, ‘I don’t care about the right to privacy because I have nothing to hide,’ that is no different than saying, ‘I don’t care about freedom of speech because I have nothing to say — or freedom of the press because I have nothing to write.’

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