Monument of Independence, Republic Square, Almaty | Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The Coronavirus and its Impact Dominate India’s Everyday Life

News briefs compiled by Suresh Jaura*

TORONTO | NEW DELHI (IDN) – A wide range of themes from informal workers to the multi-layered impact of Coronavirus spans this edition of briefs. For example, the loss of more than 120 million in April 2020 as a result of the lockdown, the absence of transparency in regard to COVID-19 infections, out-of-pocket health spenders, the role of faith and medical ethics, India’s worst recession, and the invasion of locusts.

No jobs for migrant workers, ‘informal workers, circular migrants’

More than 120 million jobs have been lost in April 2020 due to the lockdown, and the unemployment rate for April 2020 was pegged at 23.5%, nearly thrice the level in March 2020. More than 4.4 million stranded people, many of them migrant workers, have returned home in special trains as India’s economic growth is expected to be in the “negative territory” this year, according to the Reserve Bank of India, writes Shreehari  Paliath in India Spend on May 31.

Millions of migrant workers have had to walk across states and cities to reach their homes, showing that “policymakers ignore them”, says Ravi Srivastava, director of the Centre for Employment Studies at the Institute for Human Development. “They have few rights and entitlements and are treated as irritants or nowhere citizens.”

Crisis for the people, an opportunity for the Corporate-Government Nexus

Today, India has emerged as a new epicentre for the novel coronavirus in the Asia Pacific region. With 1,58,333 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and deaths of a total of 4,531 people after contracting the virus, it has already crossed China’s COVID-19 numbers, states Press Release issued by New Socialist Initiative (NSI) on India’s ‘war against COVID-19’, reported on May 29.

New Socialist Initiative (NSI) feels that the grim news of steadily rising infections and fatalities reveal before everyone a worrying pattern but the government either seems to be oblivious of the situation or has decided to shut its eyes. It is becoming increasingly clear that the Union government has used incomplete national-level data to justify arbitrary policy decisions, defend its record and underplay the extent of COVID-19 crisis.

Absence of transparency vis-a-vis data collection of COVID-19 infection levels could be said to be the tip of the iceberg of what has gone wrong with India’s ‘war against COVID-19’.

Out-Of-Pocket Healthcare Expenditure and Impoverishment in India

Indians are the sixth biggest out-of-pocket (OOP) health spenders in the low-middle income group of 50 nations. This high OOP health expenditure imposes an extreme financial burden on households.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), healthcare services, all over the world, aim to ensure that necessary services are accessible to people at affordable prices. But it seems different in low and middle-income countries including India, where government’s spending on healthcare is very little and healthcare financing is heavily relying upon out-of-pocket expenditure made by individuals, write Iffat Jahan Azhar Prof. Mohammad Akram in Counter Currents on May 29.

In India, healthcare services are provided by public as well as private sectors. However, the share of the private health sector is much more than the public sector in the overall utilization of health services in India due to lack of facilities provided in the public sector, low health expenditure by the government and highly developed private health care sector.

Faith as Nuisance, Sound as Pollution

Is “God” really deaf, that you need to call out so loud to communicate your prayers? – asks Subhash Gatade in a report in News Click on May 28, 2020.

In his time Kabir, the great 15th-century poet-saint, raised this question in his own inimitable style. One can only imagine the ire of both Hindus and Muslims that he must have invited, yet that did not deter him from questioning their rites and practices. He continued to expose the society he lived in. Now his poser about noise being an integral part of religion has received a fresh lease of life.

A recent judgement of the Allahabad High Court has declared azaan, or the call for prayers, integral to Islam, but the use of loudspeakers is “inessential” to the practice. It has banned the use of any sound-amplifying devices between 10 pm and 6 am. The judgement is an indirect affirmation of faith being a private matter that should not be allowed to vitiate public life.

Medical ethics at stake

With politicians already embracing the ‘private’ cooperation (actually corporation) to ‘assist’ our national fight against Corona, they have started charging exorbitantly.  Even the southern states which were supposed to be more pro-people policies allowed such horrific commercialization of the medical resources, Vidya Bhushan Rawat reported in CounterCurrents on May 28.

Corona crisis has brought into limelight the issue of medical ethics apart from the absolute failures of the government to protect people suffering from other diseases. There is no doubt that this is a dangerous virus yet we always believed that human spirit and science will always overcome whatever evils these viruses have but what we have seen is a painful reminder of how human being behaved absolutely unethically. At many places, the doctors and other front line warriors were targeted as their localities, which were either posh areas of the cities or middle-class localities, for bringing the risk of Corona. The behaviour of people with the rural poor was a reflection of already disconnected social structure which bothers about its own self.

The artist Irrfan Khan: A very personal tribute

Irrfan Khan, the actor and the artist is dead. The news, which apparently seemed innocuous, took time to sink in. And sank it so deep that it tickled every pore of your being. Like cancer, the news wrapped itself around you with a subdued aggressiveness; strangling you, frustrating you and suffocating you until it wrung your entrails to the point that you puked the cry. Numb and able to feel the languid swallowing up of saliva down your throat, a bizarre sense of grief and loss overcame you. A disturbance, remote and inexplicable, lingered at the outermost edges of your being, wrote DJ Singh in CounterCurrents on May 27.

All attempts to engage with the ‘event’ called Irrfan Khan in terms of his long, long struggle, his hard work, his accessibility, his ability to connect with the common man, or in terms of his conduct as a human being will fail; not because all of this is incorrect, but because it is too correct a description. As Heidegger said, the aim must always be true, not the correct. The correct has a tendency to conceal the truth. At least, in Irrfan Khan’s case, we must not once again miss the truth.

The worst recession, says Crisil

India’s fourth recession since independence, the first since liberalisation and perhaps the worst to date, is here, CRISI said as it predicted the economy to shrink by 5 per cent in the current fiscal because of Coronavirus lockdown, WION reported on May 27.

“The first quarter (April to June 2020) will suffer a staggering 25 per cent contraction,” it said in its assessment of India’s GDP.

“About 10% of gross domestic product (GDP) in real terms could be permanently lost. So going back to the growth rates seen before the pandemic is unlikely in the next three fiscals.”

The pandemic will contract India’s economy in 2020-21

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has slashed its growth forecast for this financial year and warned of inflation uncertainties as India’s economy suffers due to the Covid-19, pandemic. While the country’s GDP growth is set to “remain in the negative territory with some pick up in second half” of the 2020-21 fiscal year, RBI Governor Shaktikanta Das did not give any specific figures, citing difficulties in data collection, Countercurrents Collective reported on May 22.

“The end-May 2020 release of NSO (National Statistical Office data) on national income provide greater clarity, enabling more specific projections of GDP growth in terms of both magnitude and direction,” the governor said.

He added that the inflation outlook is also highly uncertain, but the central bank expects headline inflation to remain firm in the first half of 2020. However, it could stabilize in the second half of the year and fall below the target of four per cent.

Google faces antitrust case over payments app

India’s antitrust body is looking into allegations that say Alphabet Inc’s Google is abusing its market position to unfairly promote its mobile payments app in the country, WION reported on May 27.

The complaint was filed in February and the Competition Commission of India (CCI) has kept the identity of the complainant confidential, according to Reuters. It alleges the company is able to leverage its strong position in the Android market to promote the app.

The complaint alleges the U.S. tech giant more prominently showcases its Google Pay app inside its Android app store in India, giving it an unfair advantage over apps of competitors which hurts consumers.

Locusts attack India’s agriculture amid Coronavirus pandemic   

After the Coronavirus pandemic, India is braced for another unwelcome guest in the form of the world’s most dangerous migratory pests – locusts, WION reported on May 26.

India has not witnessed any full-blown locust cycles after 1962.

Large swarms of parasitic bugs entered the country via Pakistan in April and have been feeding on crops, pasture, and fodder. It is the worst locust attack on India in 26 years.

The locusts spread from the Horn of Africa to Yemen then flew to Iran before attacking hectares of cotton fields in Pakistan. The pests have now attacked in India. 

Investigating the visual spectre of COVID-19

In days to come, social scientists will write varied accounts on the responses of the Indian state to the ongoing pandemic COVID-19. Academicians will deploy the visible categories of class, caste, race, gender, religion, economy, centre, state, region, demography and many more to enquire and weave multiple narratives. Each study would offer us new perspectives to look into ourselves, to ask and answer how we responded, and to know that it impacted each of us, differently wrote Raj Kumar Thakur in CounterCurrents on May 26.

“While thinking about COVID-19, three themes came to my mind. The first theme is the visual spectre of stillness and movement; the second theme is the visual spectre of disciplining and punishing, and the third theme is the visual spectre of philanthropy and heartlessness. I feel that these three themes when combined together can be used as a window to most studies that investigate the visual spectre of COVID-19 in India.

Education in the time of Pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic is seen as a ‘useful crisis’ in which to transform the economy. Yet the university system has not received any such ‘stimulus’ of fresh ways of thinking about education. While exams do play a role, they are being fetishized as the return of ‘normalcy’ even as many students have been left to themselves in the face of uncertain future. A good education is central to the middle-class value system and their perceptions of upward social mobility. However, the lockdown revealed an inflexible education system which exploits and panders these sentiments and avoids the difficult task of suitably changing syllabus, rationalizing workload etc., wrote Imtiaz Quadri in CounterCurrents on May 23.

As teachers at the Delhi University, we seek to bring to light the online learning experience of our students under conditions of lack of internet availability, lack of college environment and an uncertain academic schedule.

COVID-19 Pandemic: Judges have singularly failed

Senior advocate at the Supreme Court, Dushyant Dave, said that in India now, nobody in the government is answerable to anyone and the judges who have the duty to hold the government accountable have failed in this duty in the last eight weeks, Bar and Branch reported on May 23.

The judges chose to sit silently in their ivory towers when great misery befell on the citizens of India after a nation-wide lockdown was imposed at a mere four-hour notice, Dave said with despair, while speaking on the subject of “Role of Judiciary in a pandemic” organized by the All India Lawyers Union.

Seemingly perturbed by the Supreme Court’s recent observations on migrants workers where the Judges said, “How can we stop them from walking,” during one of the hearings, Dave said that the Judges have a “pious Constitutional duty” to save every citizen of India.

High-level panel to recommend reforms in India’s drug regulatory system

A high-level committee of experts has been formed by the government to recommend reforms in India’s drug regulatory system so that approval processes can be fast-tracked, Wion reported on May 23.

Faced with the ominous threat of the coronavirus infection, a number of steps such as fast-tracking the approval process for drugs, research and vaccine development were taken. A health ministry official said the aim of the panel is to identify and institutionalise these measures.

According to a recent Union Health Ministry order, the committee will study the current drug regulatory system and submit recommendations for reforms, so as to bring the system in line with global standards and make it more efficient.

Supreme Court seeks Centre’s reply on plea for a ban on Zoom app

The Supreme Court sought response from the Centre on a plea which has sought a ban on the use of video communications app ‘Zoom’ for official as well as personal purposes until appropriate legislation is put in place, WION reported on May 22.

A bench headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde issued notice to the Centre on the plea which has raised privacy concern and claimed that continued use of Zoom app is “making the users vulnerable and prone to cyber threats”.

The matter came up for hearing through video-conferencing before the bench, also comprising Justices A S Bopanna and Hrishikesh Roy, which asked the Centre to file its reply within four weeks on the plea which has arrayed US-based Zoom Video Communications as one of the respondents in the case.

Indian contributions to British Music

The Beatles were influenced by Indian music and exponent of the Indian sitar. George Harrison has added sitar to John Lennon’s ‘Norwegian Wood’ (1965) for the first time. He later used North Indian ragas, sitar and tabla in songs like, ‘Love You To’ and ‘Within You Without You’.  Jess Beck has simulated India sitar to give a psychedelic feeling to songs like; ‘Heart Full of Soul’ (1965) and ‘Shapes of Things’ (1966). Brian Jones has borrowed the droning effects in the songs like; ‘Paint It Black’ (1966), ‘See My Friends’ (1965) and ‘Fancy’ (1966) from Indian sitar. The Kinks, the Rolling Stones and other music bands were not only influenced by Indian folk and classical music but also used it creatively to add exotic romantic feelings to their songs, wrote Bhabani Shankar Nayak in CounteerCurrents on May 22.

Amid takeovers, India keeps an eye on FPIs from China and Hong Kong

The threat of hostile takeovers from China is real and India is now plugging the loopholes in its laws to protect Indian businesses, WION reported on May 22.

The Bank of China(BOC) is one of the big four banks in the country. It is state-owned and flush with funds. It owns a Singapore based company – BOC Aviation, it lends aircraft to airlines the world over. The same company now owns a chunk of Norwegian Air but this story is much bigger and spreads way beyond Norway.

The global airline industry is in turmoil. The coronavirus pandemic has led to a hard landing for some of the biggest airlines and several faces the risk of going bankrupt since their planes remain grounded. The income of major airlines the world over has stopped but their expenses continue. [IDN-InDepthNews – 10 June 2020]

* Publisher and Managing Director of South Asian Outlook and Indo-Canada Outlook, which have meanwhile merged with IDN.

Photo: Indian migrant workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

IDN is flagship agency of the Non-profit International Press Syndicate.

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