The HINDU Notes – 15th March 2020 - VISION

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Sunday, March 15, 2020

The HINDU Notes – 15th March 2020

📰 SAARC virtual meet today

PM to convene videoconference

•Two days after he made the surprise offer, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will convene a meeting of SAARC leaders on the coronavirus pandemic over a video conference on Sunday evening.

•The conference, which will include leaders of seven countries including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Sri Lanka and the special adviser (Health) to Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, will discuss the number of coronavirus cases in the subcontinent, different measures taken to stop the spread of the virus, and treatment methods.

•“Coming together for common good,” tweeted MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar, making the announcement of the video-conference, which will begin at 5p.m. IST on Sunday.

•The SAARC leaders’ conference will come a day ahead of a similar “virtual conference” convened by France for members of the G-7 countries — Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States — which will be held on Monday.

•On Friday, after Mr. Modi proposed that the “leadership of SAARC nations chalk out a strong strategy to fight coronavirus”, which the leaders of most of the SAARC countries had welcomed, Pakistan’s government also put out a statement accepting the proposal.

•“The threat of COVID-19 requires coordinated efforts at global and regional level. We have communicated that Special Advisor to Prime Minister on Health will be available to participate in the video conference of #SAARC member countries on the issue,” Pakistan foreign ministry spokesperson Aisha Farooqui tweeted, indicating that Mr. Khan would not join the meeting.

📰 COVID-19 outbreak poses new challenges to India’s U.S. policy

Trump, whom India is betting on, left politically weakened

•The outbreak of COVID-19 across the U.S., taking the administration of President Donald Trump by complete surprise, could inflict the ongoing campaign for the presidential election scheduled for November. This could also have an impact on India-U.S. ties, if the crisis cuts short the Trump presidency to a single term.

•The crisis has put the focus sharply on issues that animate politics in the U.S. It exposed the vulnerabilities of the country’s healthcare system that is dependent on its profiteering private sector; its extremely ruthless employment conditions that make it difficult for people to take sick leave; and a wider range of questions regarding the globally distributed manufacturing models that undercut American workers.

•How deeply susceptible is the superpower to unpredictable global events beyond its control, and how the country’s political and economic model might exacerbate this weakness have been part of America’s public discourse through the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and the 2008 financial crisis. The current public health crisis could influence the debate further.

•One has to see how this alters the complexion of the Democratic primary contest between Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden, and the winner’s face-off with Mr. Trump in November. Mr. Trump and Mr. Sanders offer two distinctively different critiques of globalisation — the former wants a mercantilist global order, while the latter advocates a dismantling of the trade system that exploits American workers and wants the creation of a social security system for the country. Mr. Biden is the torch-bearer of the neoliberal global order.

Lack of grip

•Mr. Trump appeared invincible until a fortnight ago as the economy was looking up and the stock market was on a sustained upward climb. His approval ratings were high. After the public display of his lack of grip over administrative matters, and the stock market thrown into a tail spin, the President’s characteristic ability to blow his own trumpet is now merely jarring. Trump loyalists have figured that the virus is politically life-threatening for them, and have already launched their response — targeting China and topping up their nationalist rhetoric.

•Mr. Biden has raced far ahead of Mr. Sanders by uniting establishment Democrats, but the latter will certainly repackage his democratic socialism against the backdrop of the current crisis and give a final push for his candidacy. Either of them will be a credible challenge to Mr. Trump.

•If a Democrat wins the White House, India’s U.S. policy, which is now riding on the presumption of Mr. Trump’s invincibility, will be thrown into disarray as much as his rise did in 2016.

•The two Democrats in the field have widely diverging viewpoints about the world order, but both share a distaste for India’s Hindutva nationalism. If it is Mr. Biden who wins the nomination, he will have to accommodate a substantial part of Mr. Sanders’s platform ahead of the general election.

•The Indian government’s unsophisticated confrontation with the Democrats and the carping of U.S.-based Hindutva groups against them could come back to bite in the event of a change of guard in the White House.

•In any case, teetering on the brink of senility, Mr. Biden as President will merely echo the Democratic playbook on South Asia, human rights and communalism in India.

•The virus has put Mr. Trump’s re-election plans on ventilator. If he does not survive, India will pay for its decision of aligning with Mr. Trump with a period in the isolation ward.

📰 COVID-19 hurts textile exports

Supply chain disrupted, yarn exports fall 30% in Jan.-Feb.

•Textile and clothing exporters have started feeling the impact of Covid-19 because of supply chain disruptions, fall in exports and cancellation of international events.

•According to the Cotton Textiles Export Promotion Council (Texprocil), 11 countries buy 41% of India’s cotton yarn exports and these countries have reported Covid-19 cases.

•Yarn exports are down 30% in value terms in January-February compared with a year earlier. There is a sharp fall in cotton yarn exports to China, Iran, Korea and Vietnam.

•Exporters are unable to get appointments from buyers for Market Week 2020 to be held in New York later this month, pointed out Siddhartha Rajagopal, executive director of the council. In the case of home textiles, the biggest markets include France, Germany and the U.S.

•“We need to wait and watch (the market situation in) these countries. China is the largest supplier and India can tap opportunities for specific products,” he said.

•Texprocil has also called off Ind-Texpo 2020, its flagship event which is a reverse buyer-seller meet, to have been held in Coimbatore between March 17 and 19.

•The Apparel Export Promotion Council had asked garment exporters who depend on China largely for their import requirements to explore other sources.

•In a communique to members, the council listed suppliers from Japan for woven fabric made out of artificial filament yarn, slide fasteners and parts, sewing machines, furniture, bases and covers, and sewing machine needles.

•“AEPC has made a preliminary study on the possible impact of disruptions of supply of raw materials from China,” said A. Sakthivel, chairman, AEPC.

U.S., Israel opportunities

•Similarly, the council has identified products that buyers in the U.S. and Israel are interested in sourcing from India.

•They had been buying these products from China so far. Mr. Sakthivel said Indian exporters should tap such opportunities.

📰 ‘It’s wrong to presume that mergers will solve banks’ woes’

Customers may find banking with a ‘stranger’ entity difficult

•Mergers of nationalised banks will lead to closure of certain branches and doubling or trebling of depositors. It would be a big challenge for the bank with limited staff to servicing them as before, says All India Bank Employees Association general secretary C.H. Venkatachalam . Besides, the recovery of NPAs would take a back seat as witnessed in the case of SBI. Excerpts from an interview:

Do you foresee hurdles in the proposed merger of nationalised banks?

•The main hurdle will be to the smooth process of integration. In our country, all our banks have their own importance in terms of origin, growth, expansion and geographical [focus], and have been contributing to economic development in their own way. When banks were nationalised in 1969, they were small.

•In the last 50 years, all of them have grown in terms of branch network, business volume and customer reach. Merger of banks will take away their identity and customers will find it difficult to deal with the new bank. Secondly, branch rationalisation and branch closures are bound to happen on account of mergers.

What challenges would investors and depositors face?

•By merging branches in a certain locality, the number of customers to be taken care of by the merged branch will double or treble. Hence, customer attention and quality of customer service are bound to be affected adversely. When every customer wants better service, the branch will face a big hurdle in this regard.

•Borrowers also are used to a particular branch servicing their requirements. They will now be compelled to deal with a new branch. The branch staff too will not be aware of the borrower’s history.

•Investors have made their savings in various banks based on preference, convenience, etc. There are customers dealing with such banks for years and for a few generations.

•Banking is no simple commercial transaction, but one accompanied by personal experiences and relationship with a particular bank. Now, in the name of mergers, they will be forced to bank with a lender not of their choice.

What would be the status of employee unions as some banks have more than one?

•All banks in India are covered by a common and uniform industry-level settlement covering their wages and service conditions. In this regard, the unions will not face any problem, because even after the mergers, employees will continue to have the same wages and service conditions. But, the policies pertaining to transfers and promotions are different in each bank, governed by each bank-level settlement.

•Mergers of banks will create a lot of problems for employees in inter-se seniority, transfers to their place of choice, etc. This will pose a challenge to the unions dealing with these problems.

•Further, there are many welfare schemes, fringe benefits and other schemes that vary from bank to bank. Mergers will impact these benefits and schemes and unionists have to address these issues to harmonise these benefits.

•Further, due to rationalisation and closure of branches, employees may be displaced and deployed to other centres, which will be an important problem to be addressed by the unions.

Will recovery of bad debts take a back seat?

•Mergers will totally divert the attention of the banks from loan recovery and it is bound to take a back seat.

•The new entity bank will not know the background of the defaulters and borrowers. The volume of borrowal accounts in a branch will rise This is one reason why we are opposing mergers. After merger of six associate banks with SBI, non-performing assets went up. Hence, it is also a wrong presumption that the proposed move [to merge] will resolve problems faced by the banks.

📰 Heat stress may impact over 1.2 billion people annually by 2100: study

This is more than 12 times the number who would have been affected without industrial era global warming

•Stress from extreme heat and humidity will annually impact areas which are home to about 1.2 billion people worldwide by 2100, assuming current greenhouse gas emissions, according to a study.

•This is more than four times the number of people affected today, and more than 12 times the number who would have been affected without industrial era global warming, said researchers from Rutgers University-New Brunswick in the US.

•Rising global temperatures are increasing exposure to heat stress, which harms human health, agriculture, the economy and the environment, according to the research published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

•Most climate studies on projected heat stress have focused on heat extremes but not considered the role of humidity, another key driver, the researchers said.

•“When we look at the risks of a warmer planet, we need to pay particular attention to combined extremes of heat and humidity, which are especially dangerous to human health,” said senior author Robert E Kopp, from Rutgers University-New Brunswick.

•“Every bit of global warming makes hot, humid days more frequent and intense. In New York City, for example, the hottest, most humid day in a typical year already occurs about 11 times more frequently than it would have in the 19th century,” said lead author Dawei Li, a former post-doctoral associate at Rutgers, and now at the University of Massachusetts.

•Heat stress is caused by the body’s inability to cool down properly through sweating. Body temperature can rise rapidly, and high temperatures may damage the brain and other vital organs.

•Heat stress ranges from milder conditions like heat rash and heat cramps to heat exhaustion, the most common type.

•The study looked at how combined extremes of heat and humidity increase on a warming Earth, using 40 climate simulations to get statistics on rare events.

•It focused on a measure of heat stress that accounts for temperature, humidity and other environmental factors, including wind speed, sun angle and solar and infrared radiation.

•Annual exposure to extreme heat and humidity in excess of safety guidelines is projected to affect areas currently home to about 500 million people if the planet warms by 1.5 degrees Celsius, and nearly 800 million at 2 degrees Celsius, the researchers said.

•The planet has already warmed by about 1.2 degrees above late 19th century levels, the said.

•An estimated 1.2 billion people would be affected with 3 degrees Celsius of warming, as expected by the end of this century under current global policies, according to the study.

📰 Superhydrophobic coating to save metallic surfaces

Created with polyurethane and silicon dioxide nanoparticles, the coating can be easily spin-coated on steel

•Fascinated by the beauty of water rolling off a lotus leaf, a team of chemical engineers has now created a similar superhydrophobic coating that can be used to save steel from rusting.

•The team from the Indian Institute of Technology (Indian School of Mines), Dhanbad, and Ohio State University used polyurethane and silicon dioxide nanoparticles to create the coating which can be easily spin-coated on steel.

•“Not just steel, the coating can be done on other metallic surfaces, such as aluminum, copper, brass. We have also successfully developed superhydrophobic coatings for glass, cloth, paper and wood,” explains Aditya Kumar from IIT (ISM) Dhanbad and one of the corresponding authors of the work published in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A.

Treated surface

•Before applying the coating, the team created a roughness on the steel using a chemical etching process to improve the adhesion strength. Without this, the coating tends to easily peal off due to smoothness of steel.

•The team also tried different methods for the application of the coat on steel and found that spin coating was advantageous and cost-effective compared to immersion coating and spray coating. Spin coating dried quickly and the thickness of the coat could be controlled easily.

•The surface of the coating was found to have superhydrophobic property. The coating was also chemically stable in both acidic (pH 5) and alkaline (pH 8) conditions for more than six weeks. It also exhibited thermal stability up to 230 degree C.

•The mechanical stability of the coating was tested with water jet, floating, bending, sand abrasion tests and was found to be highly stable.

Self-cleaning coating

•Another useful property exhibited by the coating was of self-cleaning. When water droplets were made to fall on an uncoated surface they stuck to it and made a messy surface.

•However, in the case of a coated sample, water droplets roll away while collecting dust from the surface.

Easy to make

•“The chemicals used to make the coating are easily available in our country and they are environmental friendly too. When mass-produced on commercial scale, the cost of coating will further reduce,” adds Mukesh Kumar Meena, first author of the paper who completed his M.Tech from IIT (ISM) Dhanbad.

📰 Is the global economy headed for recession?

How deep has the impact of COVID-19 been on businesses around the world? And which are the ones that have been hit the hardest?

•The story so far: The global death toll due to COVID-19 has crossed the 5,300 mark, with over 1.42 lakh people infected. India, where 88 people have been infected, saw two casualties when a 76-year old man died in Karnataka and a 68-year-old woman died in Delhi this week. A diverse set of industries has been impacted by the spread of the virus. With daily news reports painting a dismal picture of supply chains affected, it is easy to visualise the global economy virtually grinding to a halt.

What does it mean to the global economy?

•Analysts fear that the global economy may tip into a recession unless the virus turns out to be seasonal. (A recession sets in when the economy shows two consecutive quarters of contraction.)

•The problem with current predictions is no one knows how long the virus will remain potent, how authorities around the world are able to stanch new cases and the resources they pull out to treat old ones. What business hates is uncertainty and uncertainty is the only thing that abounds when it comes to predictions about the vitality, endurance and longevity of the new virus.

•Rabobank has been cited in the media as saying that a global recession now is all but certain. It has predicted global GDP growth to be 1.6% for 2020, a figure that was 2.9% the last year, as per IMF estimates.

•Economists from Nomura have warned that a global recession might be inevitable.

•This year, in early March, the Institute for International Finance had said that global economic growth could turn out to be as low as 1%, and this was even before the OPEC club and Russia fell out on production agreements to maintain stable oil prices. Oil prices have had a free fall, sending stock markets into a tizzy. The UN’s United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), said the virus outbreak could cost the global economy up to $2-trillion this year and that the pandemic could cause a recession in some countries causing global economic growth to clock in below 2.5%.

Why should the economy be affected?

•If you engage less with the outer world, and avoid work, education, fitness and entertainment, a lot less economic activity would occur. Businesses face the challenge of disrupted supply of components to make products, or of having to shut some of their factories temporarily, not to mention large swathes of the workforce having to be quarantined.

Which are the industries impacted?

•There is no industry that has experienced the impact. When China, with the disease’s epicentre in Wuhan, was brought to its knees, the Indian pharmaceutical, automobile and mobile phone industries, for example, immediately wobbled. India depends on China for supplies of components for products that these sectors make.

•The Indian pharma industry, which depends on China for 70% of raw materials needed to manufacture drugs here, has seen input costs go up by 50% as of February this year. The pesticides sector is another that has been affected as manufacturers depend on China for raw materials. While there are comforting stock levels for now in India, farmers may soon face pesticide availability issues unless the situation resolves quickly.

•The Indian gem and jewellery makers lament the partial closure of the Chinese and Hong Kong markets, which is likely to result in a loss of about $1-billion by April this year to the Indian sector which depends on these two foreign markets for 70% of its exports.

•Even the software services industry, which so easily lends itself to working from remote locations, can only progress so far. Decision-making in the West, a key market for software services, may have been hit, with in-bound travel restricted and the U.S. declaring emergency. When a health challenge hits you, analysts say the pricing of a technology contract will not be top of the mind.

•It is for this reason that the markets have barely taken note of regulators’ attempts to infuse funds into the global economy. A few days ago, the U.S. Federal Reserve held an emergency meeting and cut interest rates by a half percentage point. The stock markets reacted favourably for a short while before losing steam and spiralling downwards.

•On Thursday, the Euro markets remained unmoved even after the European Central Bank announced fresh stimulus measures to help the economy cope with the growing cost of the COVID-19 epidemic. But, the U.S. declaring a state of emergency over the spread of the virus will help allocate the significant quantum of funds needed to deal with a health-care requirement of this magnitude. Investors reacted positively to this, and the U.S. markets zoomed in response.

How will it hit the travel sector?

•Travel has been hit severely as countries issue advisories to eliminate unnecessary travel and go into lockdown mode. The U.S., for instance, has halted all in-bound travel from Europe. India has temporarily stopped grant of visas except for emergency situations.

•The impact on profits of — and jobs at — airlines, airport authorities and oil marketing companies is obvious and immediate, not to mention the economy around air travel — the vendor of coffee and sandwiches pays out a monthly premium to occupy prime airport space so that he can sell you a cappuccino and a sandwich when you pass by his counter.

•At an aviation event in Hyderabad the past week, Boeing executives gave rough estimates indicating there had been a 50% reduction in daily flight count in the Asia-Pacific region. In normal times, mainland China would see 15,000 departures a day and at the peak of the virus the country was operating 3,000 flights a day. The rest of Asia-Pacific sees 5,000 flights operated in a day. “At one point we saw 2,500,” said a Boeing executive. As the virus spreads to other markets, airlines in Europe and the U.S. are bound to cut capacity.

When normalcy returns, wouldn’t pent-up demand make up for lack of economic activity now?

•Take the example of shared mobility in India. Anecdotal evidence tells us that at steady state, cab drivers cannot quite afford to have their cabs out of circulation for even as short a period as a week, if they have to put food on the table for their families. Curtailed travel and commutes can be devastating for them unless the situation resolves quickly. Only some of the expenses that are being held back by consumers can be made up for later when pent-up demand is unleashed after the situation returns to normal. A postponed vacation may eventually see light of day. But micro-expenses, which contribute significantly to an economy, such as a cab fare or buying snacks for a commute, can never be made up for, once the sun sets that day.

Wouldn’t entertainment and sports offer a reprieve?

•Entertainment via mass media has seen significant impact. The very popular Indian Premier League has been postponed. The South Africa-India cricket series has been cancelled. States such as Kerala have shut down cinema halls for this month. Indian movie releases have been postponed indefinitely.

•Globally, the picture is no different. In football, all Union of European Football Association (UEFA) competitions, including the Champions League and Europa League matches, have been postponed. Formula 1 has called off the first race of the season, the Australian Grand Prix. In golf, the PGA has cancelled its Players’ Championship.

•The U.S. basketball association, the National Basketball Association (NBA) suspended its season’s events indefinitely while the body that conducts college championships for the sport, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), has cancelled both its men’s and women’s upcoming events. The fate of the Summer Olympics in Tokyo is up in the air.

•The iconic Disneyworld has brought down its shutters temporarily to help prevent the spread of the virus – it has shut shop earlier in its history: immediately after President Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, and post the 9/11 attacks in New York.

Is there a silver lining at all?

•Sales of medical supplies, soaps, hand sanitisers and essentials to be stocked up at home will evidently rise.

•It is said that after the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic in China in 2003, shoppers began to prefer buying online, to avoid crowded spaces and that e-commerce major Alibaba’s fortunes zoomed after this. Digital shopping may see even more traction. With schools shutting down temporarily, online learning platforms are likely to get a boost.

📰 The time is right for OneHealth science

Emergence of pathogens calls out for cross-country collaborations

•As India goes into emergency mode to tackle the potentially catastrophic impacts of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), the ‘Kerala model’ is being widely cited as an example to emulate. In 2018, Kerala reacted quickly and efficiently to tackle the Nipah virus outbreak and successfully managed to confine it to 23 cases. This success has been credited to the strong public health infrastructure and the political will to quickly seek help from a multidisciplinary team of national and international experts. The Kerala Nipah virus outbreak was thought to have come from fruit bats, a group of animals that may also be implicated in other more deadly outbreaks, possibly including the novel coronavirus.

•These diseases, which “spillover” from animals to humans are referred to as zoonotic diseases, and represent more than 60% of emerging infectious diseases worldwide. The destruction of the natural environment, globalised trade and travel and industrialised food production systems have created numerous pathways for new pathogens to jump between animals and humans. Understanding this critical intersection between human health, domestic and wild animal health and the environment requires a new integrated framework — a paradigm called ‘OneHealth’.

Kyasanur Forest Disease

•Although OneHealth, as a conceptual entity, emerged relatively recently, a stellar example of OneHealth being operationalised in the field was seen in India in the late 1950s. It helped discover the source of Kyasanur Forest Disease (KFD), a highly dangerous haemorrhagic fever more threatening than COVID-19. It was locally called ‘monkey fever’ because of the links between monkey deaths and human infections in Shimoga District of Karnataka where it emerged in 1957. It took pioneering interdisciplinary work to bring together diverse entities like the Rockefeller Foundation and the Virus Research Centre (later the National Institute of Virology), Pune, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Bombay Natural History Society.

•The Rockefeller Foundation provided the financial and technical support, including laboratory facilities, while P.K. Rajagopalan and a team of dedicated researchers from the Virus Research Centre combed the forests of the Western Ghats for potential carriers and autopsied monkeys in their investigations into the cause of the disease. The legendary bird man of India, Salim Ali, supported by WHO funds, tagged migratory birds to rule out the possibility that they were carrying pathogens responsible for the disease in their cross-continental flights.

•As successful as the epidemiological investigation into KFD was, it largely remained an isolated example. This model of cross-sectoral collaboration did not set the tone for further research along similar lines or fructify into readying our public health system to address zoonotic diseases. To our great loss, everyone slipped back into their silos. Many decades later, India is yet to operationalise a true OneHealth policy.

Range of permissions

•Further, the regulatory framework for doing OneHealth research in India with international collaboration typically requires approvals from multiple authorities, including ICMR, the Ministries of External Affairs and Finance, Directorate General of the Armed Forces, National Biodiversity Authority, Committee for the Purpose of Control & Supervision of Experiments on Animals and State health authorities, among others. Additional permissions are required from state forest authorities and biodiversity boards for accessing biological resources within natural landscapes. While the necessity for research permits is not being questioned, the range of permissions needed and the long waiting periods (ranging from three months to more than a year), raises the issue of whether we are unwittingly hampering our ability to rapidly respond to emerging threats from infectious diseases.

•Given our pioneering historical contribution to combat zoonotic diseases, and robust institutional framework for biomedical research, India has the opportunity to take the lead in combating the massive public health crisis posed by emerging infectious diseases. An opportunity now exists for India to leap-frog over the systemic and institutional barriers that prevent an integrated OneHealth framework from being operationalised.

•The Government of India has recently launched the National Mission on Biodiversity and Human Well-being. The mission aims to explore the neglected links between biodiversity science and human well-being across the sectors of health, economic development, agricultural production and livelihood generation, in combination with efforts to mitigate climate change and related disasters. One of the components of the mission explicitly links biodiversity to human health through the OneHealth framework.

•The OneHealth programme aims to encourage team science by having networks of institutions collectively bid for grants to set up integrated OneHealth surveillance systems across India at 25 sentinel surveillance sites in potential emerging infectious disease hotspots. In this manner, government and private institutions, across a range of disciplines, from virology to epidemiology, genomics to ecology, and social and behavioural sciences to veterinary and animal sciences can collaborate to understand how zoonotic diseases can emerge, the threats they can pose, and the mechanisms by which the emergence or spread can be controlled.

•The frequency with which new pathogens are emerging or old ones are re-emerging across the world are alarm calls for greater transparency, cross-country collaborations, and enhanced national infrastructure and capacity for integrated OneHealth science. The cause of mitigating large-scale human suffering justifies making such a hitherto unprecedented effort.

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