2 July 2020: The Hindu Editorial Analysis
1) Lax on safety: On Nevveli and Vizag disasters-
- Two deadly industrial disasters, in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, leading to the loss of at least eight lives and causing serious injuries to many, once again underscore(focus) the value of safety protocols.
- In a boiler blast at the Neyveli thermal power station, 6 people were killed and a dozen workers suffered severe burns, while a toxic chemical leak at a pharmaceutical plant in Visakhapatnam led to 2 deaths immediately.
- These other recent disasters, also at a Neyveli have come at a stressful time when India is trying to find its feet(safety) in the midst of the pandemic.
- What happened in Neyveli on Wednesday is inexplicable, since the power producer had encountered a boiler furnace blowout only on May 7, and had ordered a review of its infrastructure and processes.
- Without meticulous(careful) care, boilers are dangerous pieces of equipment.
- High-pressure and superheated steam make for a lethal combination, if their release mechanism is not kept in good order, and there is an explosion.
- For this very reason, they are regulated strictly under the Indian Boilers Act, at least on paper.
- The terrible consequences of lax boiler safety were evident three years ago in Rae Bareli, when a blast at an NTPC power plant killed a few dozen people.
- But States have clearly not internalised a culture of zero tolerance to boiler accidents.
MAINTENANCE AND OPERATIONAL PROCEDURES:
- The gas leak in Visakhapatnam apparently involving benzimidazole, a chemical used in pharmaceuticals, raises questions on maintenance and operational procedures.
- The probe into how vapours of a stable but acutely toxic chemical escaped should lead to an upgrade to safety protocols.
- In the Neyveli incident, there is a suggestion that the boiler was not in operation as it had tripped and was in the process of being revived.
- Since the major operations of this equipment involve a furnace and production of steam, what led to an unexpected blowout?
- NLC India, a key power producer, has an obligation(duty) to present a transparent report on why its facilities are beset by mishaps.
- Occupational safety demands that boilers are operated by trained personnel, but some of those on the ground have been described as contract employees.
- It will take an independent probe to determine whether cost calculations guided staffing decisions in such a hazardous sector.
- The response of the Centre and States to industrial accidents is usually to stem public outrage by announcing compensation for victims.
- A transparent inquiry that leads to a fixing of responsibility and reform is a low priority.
- This culture must change. Such accidents are mostly preventable, and occur rarely in the industrialised world, because of impeccable attention to safety.
- India’s aspirations to industrialise should be founded on safety.
Deadly industrial accidents point to the low priority that laws and protocols get.
2) Promise and delivery: On India’s first COVID-19 vaccine-
GS 2- Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health
- India’s first indigenous COVID-19 vaccine (COVAXIN) developed by a Hyderabad-based company in collaboration with the ICMR is all set to be tested on humans.
- The permission from the Drugs Controller General of India to carry out phase-1 and phase-2 human clinical trials was based on the safety and efficacy results of studies on mice, rats and rabbits.
- The phase-1 trial of the candidate vaccine using inactivated (killed) novel coronavirus will begin this month to test its safety.
- The virus used for developing the vaccine was isolated by the Pune-based National Institute of Virology from samples collected in India.
- Meanwhile, a Pune-based company is all set to manufacture two-three million doses of the University of Oxford vaccine if the results of its phase-1 clinical trial are encouraging.
- Results will be expected in the first week of July.
- Millions of doses more will be manufactured if the results of the combined phase-2/3 trial are reassuring.
- In addition, the two companies are collaborating with universities and a biotechnology company to develop three more vaccines.
- With the pandemic raging and no antivirals available to treat severe COVID-19 patients, a vaccine that is even partially effective and protects for about a year will be in demand.
- Thus, an indigenous vaccine will mean guaranteed availability for Indians, while a significant percentage of the Oxford vaccine manufactured in India will be earmarked for local consumption.
- This is one reason why many countries are earnestly attempting to develop a vaccine.
- According to WHO, 17 candidate vaccines are in various stages of a human clinical trial, while 132 are in a pre-clinical trial stage.
- On June 25, China’s CanSino Biologics COVID-19 vaccine, became the first off the block when it was approved for use by the military for a period of one year.
- The phase-1 and phase-2 trials found the vaccine to be safe with a “potential to protect” against the disease.
- It is unclear if the vaccination will be optional or mandatory.
- This is not the first time that countries have made vaccines under development available to the military even before the completion of the trial.
- There is growing concern that speeding up vaccine development by bypassing certain crucial stages of the trial process may prove counterproductive.
- In a poll in the U.S., one-third have said they would not get immunised against COVID-19 even if a vaccine was widely available and affordable.
- While many expect science to find a quick-fix, experts envisage 12-18 months to get a vaccine commercialised, if at all.
- But that timeline is already seen as aggressive.
- If scientists develop a safe, efficacious vaccine soon, public trust in science could grow substantially but there would be serious consequences if it fails, particularly on the safety aspect.
- Regulatory agencies have a responsibility to ensure COVID-19 vaccines deliver what they promise.
Even partially effective vaccines will be in demand, but the safety aspect is paramount.
3) Reforming India’s digital policy-
- Competition for foreign investment is intensifying, spurred on by national campaigns to shift supply chains and the urgent necessity to reverse recessionary trends.
- Foreign direct investment (FDI) is falling and the immediate picture for many countries is not looking pretty.
- The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development just released its latest World Investment Report and projected that FDI to developing Asian economies could drop by as much as 45%.
- One sector that is expected to buck(oppose) this trend is digital services.
- Now more than ever, it is clear that digital services have become critical to every 21st century economy.
- Quite literally, digital services are filling gaps when national or global emergencies interrupt more traditional modes of commerce.
- Digital services enable access to and delivery of a wide array of products across multiple sectors, from healthcare to retail distribution to financial services.
- Even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, investments in digital services continue to flow at record levels globally, outpacing investment in nearly every other sector.
- India is an ideal destination for increased FDI flows in the digital services sector.
- India offers undeniable potential for innovative homegrown start-ups not least because of its huge and increasingly digitised population.
- However, Indian government policies will be key determinants in how quickly and at what level the Indian economy attracts new investment, fosters Indian innovation, and expands its exporting prowess.
THREE PENDING MEASURES:
- Currently, there are three pending reform measures under consideration that are likely to affect India’s growth trajectory in digital services for years to come.
- These are- Personal Data Protection Bill (PDPB), the e-commerce policy, and the Information Technology Act Amendments.
- Approaches in these regulatory reform efforts seem to emphasise a focus on protecting the domestic market for domestic companies and prioritising government access to data.
- It may be difficult to reconcile these approaches with India’s strong interest in promoting data privacy, protecting its democratic institutions, and encouraging FDI and India’s position as a global leader in information technology.
- Understandably, there is uncertainty about when these changes will be completed and implemented.
- Also, the course of the India-U.S. trade relationship is uncertain, as signs of progress are continually interrupted by setbacks in the form of new restrictions.
- The bilateral relationship is an important factor in realising the potential for greater trade and investment in digital services.
- The strategic relationship has been growing, reflecting how their historic ties have evolved over time.
- Where the relationship has lagged is with respect to trade.
- India and the U.S. are yet to conclude negotiation on a bilateral trade agreement that could address some digital services issues.
- U.S. just initiated a “Section 301” review of whether digital services taxes in 10 countries constitute “unfair” trade measures, including India’s equalisation levy.
- As India resumes its efforts to put into place a new architecture for digital services and as it pursues opportunities to attract new investment, the government and stakeholders might consider the full range of implications for the long-term.
- How might new policies affect India’s ability to attract foreign investment?
- How might these policies promote innovation through increased competition and create an environment that is friendly towards homegrown start-ups?
- Ultimately, what policies can best advance the objective of becoming a $5 trillion economy?
- India will be host of the G20 nations in 2022, and it appears clear that post-COVID-19 international cooperation and approaches to good governance in the digital sphere will be top-priority initiatives.
- The steps India takes now could well establish itself as a true global leader.