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Admin 2020-04-17

17 Apr 2020: The Indian Express Editorial Analysis

1) Not by distrust


The nation has joined ranks in the face of the unprecedented(never done or known before) public health and economic crises. Everyone is playing their part, including those who are contributing with forbearance(tolerance) and patience in tiding over the lockdown, even at the risk of hunger.


In his televised speeches to the nation, the prime minister has urged citizens and civil society to step forward and join the fight. He included the media in the essential services — accurate information is high-calibre ammunition(weapon) in this global battle against a poorly understood foe(enemy). Yet, globally, it is also being feared that in such extraordinary circumstances, under cover of crisis, governments are likely to assume extraordinary powers, weakening checks and balances and countervailing institutions. Two recent incidents in India would suggest that this fear is not baseless.


Across regimes, and irrespective of political inclination, a mistrust of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the media has developed and entrenched(firmly established and difficult or unlikely to change) itself in the political establishment. It is also true that many NGOs have strayed, and some organisations, notably in the electronic media, have jettisoned(throw or discard) ethics and responsibility to mutate(change in form or nature) into super-spreaders of the communal virus. (The preceding statement means that NGO and Media have been unethical and due to which in an indirect way they are responsible for the spread of the virus)


At the same time, the overwhelming majority do their duty, and are serving, anonymously and selflessly, at the frontlines in the current crisis, reaching food and providing shelter to those who are stranded and in need. Showing sweeping suspicion(doubt), at a time when every ally(support) counts, the ministry of home affairs, which has oversight over NGOs, has commanded those which receive foreign funds to report their COVID-19-related activities every 15 days.

This public service by fiat(a formal authorization or proposition) deepens distrust at a time when NGOs can play a vital role in ameliorating(make (something bad or unsatisfactory) better) humanitarian distress in the lockdown. Pandemic requires all to join ranks. Government does disservice by treating media, NGOs with suspicion


The Uddhav Thackeray government in Maharashtra, which is otherwise drawing attention for its effective and calming interventions in the ongoing crisis, has arrested a reporter of the ABP Majha channel, connecting his despatches (the sending of someone or something to a destination or for a purpose) with the unrest among migrant workers at Bandra West station this week, when it was rumoured(be circulated as an unverified account) that trains had started running. The channel has forcefully rejected accusations. Indeed, arrest or any other form of censorship is a completely wrong-headed response by the state.


At this time, and through the delicate period of the unlocking which lies ahead, civil society and the providers of essential services will remain critical elements of the response to the pandemic. If anything, they deserve acknowledgement and support, not paternalistic(restriction of the freedom and responsibilities) attempts to discipline and punish.


2) Sobering portent


India’s merchandise(goods to be bought and sold) exports plunged by a staggering(shocking) 34.6 per cent in March as the dislocation of economic activities due to the coronavirus spread across the world.


This sharper than expected fall was due to a combination of factors — the disruption of supply chains in China, which, coupled with weak global demand and lockdowns in large parts of the world, resulted in cancellation of export orders, as well as the imposition of the lockdown in India which restricted economic activity beginning in the last week of March. The situation is likely to have worsened in April on account of the extension of the lockdown in not just India, but in large parts of Europe and the US, which are among India’s major trading partners.


At the aggregate level, data from the commerce ministry shows that India’s merchandise exports in March stood at $21.4 billion, down from $32.7 billion in the same month last year. The decline in exports was broad-based, with all sectors barring iron ore registering a contraction: Engineering goods fell by 42.3 per cent, gems and jewellery by 41 per cent, leather products by 36.8 per cent, and readymade garments by 34.9 per cent.

This stunning collapse in trade is in line with the World Trade Organisation’s estimates which had projected merchandise trade to fall by 13-32 per cent in 2020 — North America and Asia are likely to be the hardest hit, and nearly all regions are expected to witness double digit falls in trade volumes as global demand collapses. Equally worrying, the trade data also showed that non-oil non-gold imports declined sharply by 30.5 per cent in March, signalling depressed domestic demand — the decline was broad-based, across both capital and consumer goods segments.


At this juncture it is difficult to gauge to what extent easing the restrictions on select economic activities after April 20, and the likely lifting of other lockdown curbs post May 3, are able to ease export growth in the near term. It is quite likely that it will take some time for exports to return to normal, in part, due to raw material and labour shortages, logistical challenges and the fall in global demand. Given this situation, it is difficult to see net exports as being a driver of growth in the near-term.


And with both private consumption and investment activity likely to remain depressed, the economy will be heavily reliant on government spending. In such a scenario, the central government must clearly lay out its strategy on how it plans to support the economy during this difficult period.


3) Emotional chipko


Iceland authorities are encouraging citizens to hug trees for emotional support during social isolation. There’s a lesson in it

There’s more than one way to hug a tree. One can put an arm across the trunk, while the other hand is placed gently on the bark. Or hold it tight, in a bear hug and if it has fallen, even lie down with it. And if you want to play it cool, just place your arm casually on a low-hanging branch.

There are many others — a complete visual guide is available on the website of Iceland’s forestry department. The sparsely populated country’s government is peddling its version of the Chipko Movement as a form of emotional support in times of social isolation brought on by the novel coronavirus pandemic.


Thor Thorfinnsson, forest manager for East Iceland, has instructed citizens on how to get the most out their tree-hugging experience: “It’s good to close your eyes while hugging a tree. I press my cheek against it and feel the warmth and currents flowing from the tree into me… it starts in your toes, runs up your legs and through your body into your brain. You get such a good relaxing feeling that you are ready for a new day and new challenges.”

While it may appear that Thorfinnsson is imbuing flora with an almost romantic emotional-comforting prowess, there is some merit in his advice. Contact with the natural world, with living things, does indeed have endocrinological(relating to or denoting glands which secrete hormones or other products directly into the blood) effects, which are chemically — and therefore emotionally — indistinguishable from a “good relaxing feeling”.

(Endocrinological effects- the branch of biology dealing with the endocrine glands and their secretions, especially in relation to their processes or functions)


In India, beginning with Uttarakhand in the 1970s, tree-hugging has been a form of satyagraha deployed to protect forests and the economic and environmental bounty they held for local communities, particularly women. That practice and movement could have even greater success if those long divorced from nature — city-dwellers — find that trees can help them overcome loneliness. In fact, environmentalists could take a page from the business plans of social media giants: COVID or no COVID, people will do anything to avoid feeling isolated.