Indian Express Editorial Analysis
20 May 2020

1) One conflict less-

 


CONTEXT:

At least one war has ended in Afghanistan with the agreement between President Ashraf Ghani and the rival claimant of victory in the recent parliamentary elections, Abdullah Abdullah. It is an important moment.

It shows that the complex questions in a power-sharing agreement can be resolved without leaving a trail of of destruction, by simply talking, and with some give and take on both sides.

The long standoff between the two leaders, at a time when democracy in Afghanistan needed to show its best side, has caused its share of damage.

GHANI AND ABDULLAH:

It took two months after the Afghan election commission declared Ghani the winner. Abdullah had contested and demanded a recount. He had been firm that unlike the last time, when he was persuaded(convinced) by then US Secretary of State John Kerry to accept the position of “CEO” under Ghani’s presidency, this time he would not be party to a power-sharing deal. But a way was found, peacefully.

Ghani will remain president, Abdullah gets no formal position in the government, but gets to nominate half the cabinet, and will also lead the talks with the Taliban if and when they take place, as the chairman of the High Council of National Reconciliation.

CHAOTIC CONDITIONS:

For now, the Ghani-Abdullah patch-up means one less conflict in Afghanistan, when a surge(increase) in violence by the Taliban and the steadily advancing coronavirus have created chaotic(disturbance and disorder) conditions in the country. As of May 19, Afghanistan had over 7,600 cases.

A ceasefire, had the Taliban agreed to one, could have helped in formulating a better public health response. Instead, the number of attacks and violent incidents has only increased after the February 29 pact between the US and the Taliban on the withdrawal of US troops.

According to the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, the Taliban were responsible for 208 civilian casualties(deaths) last month, 25 per cent more than April 2019, while in the same period, 172 civilian casualties were caused by the Afghan security forces, an increase of 38 per cent over last April. Even health facilities, the most crucial public good in the time of a pandemic, seem no longer off limits.

NO HOPE:

Last week, gunmen entered a maternity hospital in Kabul and killed 24 people including new born babies, mothers and hospital staff, and on the same day, the suicide bombing at a funeral(ceremony or service held shortly after a person's death, usually including the person's burial or cremation) in Nangarhar, seemed like a preview of what is to follow in Afghanistan.

On Tuesday, there was an outbreak of heavy fighting in Kunduz between the Taliban and the Afghan forces. If there is a glimmer(ray) of hope in all this, it is not visible yet.

 

2) End of a monopoly-


CONTEXT:

Agriculture is a state subject under the Constitution, but the Green Revolution wouldn’t have happened without the political leadership at the Centre in 1966 approving the import of 18,000 tonnes of seeds of high-yielding semi-dwarf wheat varieties from Mexico.

The same goes for the Narendra Modi government’s decision now to enact a Central law to dismantle(end) the monopoly of agricultural produce market committee (APMC) mandis in the wholesale trading of farm commodities.

It’s all very well to say that “agriculture” and “markets and fairs” fall under the State List of the Seventh Schedule. However, state governments have done very little all these years to remove barriers(hurdles) to trade in farm produce.

 

HAVING THE FREEDOM:

Farmers, like any businessmen, should have the freedom to sell their produce to anyone, anywhere and anytime. This, in turn, is also contingent(on condition) upon processors, traders, retailers or exporters being able to buy directly from them.

Unfortunately, most state APMC laws today permit first sale of farm produce to take place only in notified mandis within the particular tehsils or talukas. Buyers, too, need to obtain individual licenses from each APMC in order to transact.

While some states are granting single unified market licenses and allowing direct procurement from farmers, even they require payment of APMC fee — whether or not they are using the infrastructure of the local mandi.

Effectively, then, there is no national market for agricultural commodities. What we have, instead, are some 2,500 markets controlled by commission agents, who mediate between sellers and buyers even when not required.

ANATHEMA TO THE SPIRIT OF LIBERALISATION:

This arrangement is anathema(dislike) to the spirit of liberalisation and also goes against Article 301 of the Constitution, which envisages freedom of trade and commerce “throughout the territory of India”.

If states haven’t really freed agricultural produce trading even within their own territories, the Centre is well within its rights to enact a law using the provisions of entry 33 of the Concurrent List. The latter specifically deals with agricultural produce, including “foodstuffs”, “cattle fodder” and “raw cotton”.

In an ideal situation, from a cooperative federalism perspective, the initiative for APMC reforms should have come from the states themselves.

TRIVIA- (Cooperative federalism, also known as marble-cake federalism, is a concept of federalism in which federal, state, and local governments interact cooperatively and collectively to solve common problems, rather than making policies separately)

But there have been times — whether it had to do with the Green Revolution or the nod to Bt cotton cultivation in 2002 — when the Centre had to necessarily take the lead.

CONCLUSION:

The Modi government must make it clear that the objective behind its proposed law is not to dismantle(end) APMCs.

Farmers will continue to bring their produce to mandis that have good infrastructure (auction platforms, weighbridges, godowns, etc) and where they are likely to find more buyers (Andhra Pradesh’s Guntur Mirchi Yard for chilli and the Unjha APMC of Gujarat for jeera are good examples). But that should be a matter of choice, both for farmers and buyers.

APMC monopoly(exclusive possession or control of the supply of or trade in a commodity or service) has to go.

Initiative for APMC reforms should have come from states. But it is welcome that Centre is now taking the lead.

 

3) Spit & shine-


CONTEXT:

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, the cricket establishment has fired its latest salvo(sudden, vigorous, or aggressive act or series of acts).

On Monday, the technical committee of the International Cricket Council ruled that players can’t use saliva on the ball anymore — an age-old method to shine the ball — but can continue to use their sweat instead.

Clarity and coherence(quality of being logical and consistent) were needed on the bigger plan to restart sports in a secure environment. Other sports have been sweating over two-week lockdowns and the micromanaging needed to repeatedly test the players, officials, broadcasters, dressing-room attendants and other people frequenting(visiting) the stadium.

Trust the International Cricket Council to fuss(protest) over a minor point even before they announce a larger plan to restart the game.

ICC SHOULD TAKE THE LEAD:

Individual countries are making small talk about it but the ICC should have taken the lead by chalking(planning) out the roadmap.

It should have come out with protocols relating to social distancing, contact-tracing, the personnel allowed inside an arena, travel and accommodation plans and the details about temperature checks, COVID-swabs and other bio-security measures that are needed.

In the words of the straight-talking Michael Holding, a legend of the game, “If you’re not confident of the bio-secure environment. that you are free of COVID-19, you should not be playing. Then I am not sure why you have to worry about saliva or perspiration.”

OTHER ETHICAL QUESTIONS:

Should sport be given such a priority in a country like India where asymptomatic people are tested only if they are in direct contact with positive patients and where there is a lack of enough testing kits?

With frequent testing being suggested, would it be feasible to test an estimated 200-300 people in the protective bubble of the stadium?

Sports can be a soothing(having a gently calming effect) agent in these frayed times but those questions should be debated and a detailed plan chalked out before the ICC starts spitting into the wind about saliva on the ball.

CONCLUSION:

ICC needs to focus on the big picture about sports and the pandemic instead of fussing over minor questions.

 

4) More than applause, healthcare workers need safe working conditions-


CONTEXT:

Ever since the dawn of a post-COVID-19 reality, the world’s focus has temporarily shifted from geopolitical faultlines, like belligerent(hostile) neighbours and trade wars, to a human catastrophe(devastation) that is still unfolding.

On at least three occasions, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced mass acts of appreciation for healthcare workers, the last one being the show of support from the armed forces. But this has not led to sensitive handling of the needs of healthcare workers (HCWs) and an appreciation of the issues plaguing(harming) them.

 

THE EPIDEMIC DISEASES (AMENDMENT) ORDINANCE, 2020:

The government took a laudable initiative by promulgating The Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020 to check the acts of violence — including social ostracisation(exclude from a society or group)perpetrated(carry out) by insensitive landlords and neighbours.

However, the implementation of the law remains a concern: HCWs continue to suffer discrimination even while being praised in social media posts and WhatsApp forwards.

The ordinance provides a broad definition to “acts of violence” and by extension, provides better protection, at least on paper. This has, however, failed to transpire into action — cases of assault by police continue to make headlines. The government should embark(start) on a sensitisation exercise that should complement the blitz of the sporadic(irregular) acts of applause.

MACRO-LEVEL STEPS:

While social stigma has been partially addressed, the macro-level steps taken by the government, especially with regards to the procurement of PPEs for the frontline workers, leave a lot to be desired. The ICMR, which doesn’t have any history or experience with procurement strategies, was given the responsibility to procure(get) PPES.

The Centre should encourage the state governments to spearhead PPE procurement to prevent more HCWs from being exposed to the disease.

 

The lapses in the procurement of PPE kits have resulted in high exposure of healthcare workers to the disease. According to reports, more than 500 doctors, nurses and paramedics have been infected by the virus.

This figure does not include the number of field workers, ward boys, sanitation workers, security guards, lab attendants, peons, laundry and kitchen staff at healthcare centres. The matter requires urgent consideration — we have seen that with more HCWs contracting the disease, the number of those willing to work under such pitiable(arousing pity) conditions comes down sharply.

It is high time that India focuses on bringing a healthcare services welfare bill to protect the interests of HCWs, especially nurses and other paramedical staff, whose working conditions often compel them to make difficult choices. The government needs to recognise that HCWs are exposed to several diseases all year round.

WELFARE OF HCWs:

The ordinance to amend the Epidemics Act, 1897 offers too little to the HCWs. There is no law to deal with the welfare of healthcare workers. The Delhi Medical Council’s recommendation to the state for compensation to medical staff who fall sick or succumb(surrender) to the virus, while on duty, also doesn’t address the root cause of the problem.

The last major step in this regard was taken by the Supreme Court in Trained Nurses Association V. Union of India, 2016.

The Court directed the Centre to lay down guidelines for the welfare of nurses. But no efforts have been undertaken to alleviate(reduce) the concerns raised in that petition. HCWs require a special legislation, as directed by the SC, to address their concerns — not a patchwork of temporary provisions. This is arguably the best way to thank the healthcare workers for their services during this crisis.

The ruling dispensation, and the public in general, have related to the healthcare worker with a “hero syndrome” during the pandemic. Terms like COVID warriors have been used abundantly(plenty). It is, of course, important to appreciate the courage of the healthcare community, which has tried to serve the nation despite difficult odds.

But it is equally important to acknowledge their concerns and not sacrifice them on the altar of hero worship.

CONCLUSION:

Citizens need to be sensitised by the government and the government should be questioned consistently on the issue of HCW safety. The authorities should not muzzle(restraint) the genuine concerns raised by doctors and nurses as it has often done during the lockdown.