The HINDU Notes – 07th June 2020 - VISION

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Sunday, June 07, 2020

The HINDU Notes – 07th June 2020

📰 Poaching doubled during coronavirus lockdown, says wildlife group

Reports of poaching for consumption and local trade rose sharply

•A recent report by TRAFFIC, a leading wildlife trade monitoring network, has recorded a significant increase in poaching in India during the over two month lockdown period.

•The report titled “Indian wildlife amidst the COVID-19 crisis: An analysis of status of poaching and illegal wildlife trade” was released earlier this week. It points out that reports of poaching for consumption and local trade have more than doubled during lockdown. The report, however, mentions that there was no evidence of stockpiling of wildlife products for future trade.

•The researchers analysed compared media reports of poaching incidents in a six-week period before the lockdown (February 10 to March 22) with those from six weeks during the lockdown (March 23 to May 3).

•Based on this, the report said: “Reported poaching incidences rose from 35 to 88.” The report, however, added that it remains unknown how reporting rates in the media have changed because of the lockdown.

For consumption

•A species group comparison during pre-lockdown and post-lockdown reveals that the biggest increase in reported poaching was related to ungulates, where the percentage jumped from 22% of total reported cases during pre-lockdown, to 44% during the lockdown period.

•“Since these species are targeted mainly for meat (for self-consumption or for local trade), the increase is presumably due to those poaching for self-consumption or those who are trying to compensate their loss of income by making quick money through poaching,” the report stated.

•The second group of animals where there was a marked increase in poaching was ‘small mammals’, including hares, porcupines, pangolins, giant squirrels, civets, monkeys and smaller wild cats. “Cases against this group 17% to 25% between the pre-and lockdown periods,” the report pointed out.

•Interestingly, there was a slight decrease in the incidence of bird-related seizures, which dropped from 14% to 7% between the pre-lockdown and post-lockdown periods. There was less reporting of poaching and illegal trade in tortoises and freshwater turtles, with almost no seizures of these species during the lockdown period.

•Even though there are reports about pangolins being linked to the COVID-19 crisis, the report states that pangolins were targeted by poachers in various parts of the country. “Live pangolins Manis spp. and their scales were seized from poachers in Uttarakhand, Karnataka and Odisha,” the study said.

Officers burdened

•Saket Badola, Head of TRAFFIC’s India office and author of the report said more than doubling of reported poaching cases, mainly of ungulates and small wild animals for meat is doubtless placing additional burdens on wildlife law enforcement agencies.

•“Therefore, it is imperative that these agencies are supported adequately and in a timely manner so they can control the situation” he added. The report also pointed out that the number of persons arrested for poaching related cases during lockdown was higher than in pre-lockdown weeks. A total of 222 people were arrested for poaching related cases in the lockdown period, which is significantly higher than the 85 suspects who were arrested during the pre-lockdown phase.

•The outcome of this study indicates that “despite efforts by law enforcement agencies, wild animal populations in India are being subjected to additional threats during the lockdown period”.

📰 Border meet sets stage for more talks

•Before the talks began, the Army issued an advisory to the media that both sides remained engaged through established military and diplomatic channels “to address the current situation in the India-China border areas” and speculation would not be helpful. “At this stage, therefore, any speculative and unsubstantiated reporting about these engagements would not be helpful and the media is advised to refrain from such reporting,” it said.

•Since the tension began, both Armies have held dialogues at various levels, including three meetings at the level of Major-General. Military experts had already stated that the military talks would not lead to a solution but would set the ground for diplomatic talks to end the impasse.

•On Friday, Naveen Srivastava, Joint Secretary (East Asia), Ministry of External Affairs, held a video-conference with Wu Jianghao, Director-General of the Asia Department at the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. China said both sides agreed to “implement the consensus that two countries do not constitute a threat to each other” and “do not let differences rise into disputes”.

•Separately, in the midst of the tension, China has appointed a new commander to oversee the People’s Liberation Army’s Ground Forces along the India border. On June 1, it was announced that Lt. Gen. Xu Qiling was appointed as the new commander of the PLA Western Theater Command Ground Force. He will report to General Zhao Zongqi, commander of China’s Western Theater Command.

📰 Gross Value Added numbers and the economy

Why are the GVA figures in focus now? How is the GVA data relevant when economic growth is announced in GDP terms?

•The story so far: The National Statistical Office (NSO), on May 29, released its provisional estimates of national income for the financial year 2019-20. As per the NSO, real GDP (Gross Domestic Product) in the full fiscal year was estimated to have expanded by 4.2% from a year earlier, the slowest pace of growth in 11 years. And GDP growth for the January-March quarter was pegged at 3.1%. The release also detailed the estimates of the Gross Value Added, or GVA, at basic prices for the four quarters of 2019 as well as the comparable quarterly data for the two preceding years. Interestingly, the GVA numbers for the first three quarters revealed significant revisions from what the NSO had shared back in February, when it had announced estimates for the third quarter. While initial estimates are routinely revised based on the updated availability of information, the extent of these revisions has come into focus since they point to a sharper and more widespread slowdown in economic activity over the course of the last financial year than had been previously revealed.

What is Gross Value Added (GVA)?

•In 2015, in the wake of a comprehensive review of its approach to GDP measurement, India opted to make major changes to its compilation of national accounts and bring the whole process into conformity with the United Nations System of National Accounts (SNA) of 2008. As per the SNA, gross value added, is defined as the value of output minus the value of intermediate consumption and is a measure of the contribution to GDP made by an individual producer, industry or sector. At its simplest it gives the rupee value of goods and services produced in the economy after deducting the cost of inputs and raw materials used. GVA can be described as the main entry on the income side of the nation’s accounting balance sheet, and from an economics perspective represents the supply side. While India had been measuring GVA earlier, it had done so using ‘factor cost’ and GDP at ‘factor cost’ was the main parameter for measuring the country’s overall economic output till the new methodology was adopted. In the new series, in which the base year was shifted to 2011-12 from the earlier 2004-05, GVA at basic prices became the primary measure of output across the economy’s various sectors and when added to net taxes on products amounts to the GDP.

•As part of the data on GVA, the NSO provides both quarterly and annual estimates of output — measured by the gross value added — by economic activity. The sectoral classification provides data on eight broad categories that span the gamut of goods produced and services provided in the economy. These are: 1) Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing; 2) Mining and Quarrying; 3) Manufacturing; 4) Electricity, Gas, Water Supply and other Utility Services; 5) Construction; 6) Trade, Hotels, Transport, Communication and Services related to Broadcasting; 7) Financial, Real Estate and Professional Services; 8) Public Administration, Defence and other Services.

Why are the latest GVA numbers attracting attention?

•In February, the NSO announced estimates of national income and expenditure for the fiscal third quarter along with its second advance estimates of GDP for 2019-20. Those estimates had pegged year-on-year GVA growth rates in the first three quarters at 5.4%, 4.8% and 4.5%, respectively. The February estimates also suggested that manufacturing, construction, electricity and utility services and the trade, hotels and transport (another services category) sectors apart, the other four sectors were faring at about the same level or better than the comparable year earlier periods. However, last month’s estimates saw significant downward revisions in the GVA data pertaining to the first three quarters for five of the eight sectors, dragging down the Q1, Q2 and Q3 GVA growth rates to 4.8%, 4.3% and 3.5%. The revisions, combined with a lacklustre performance in the fourth quarter, including a sharp weakening in momentum at two of the largest services sectors ultimately lowered the overall annual GVA growth estimate for 2019-20 by as much as 1 percentage point to 3.9%, from the 4.9% forecast in February.

•A closer look at some of the sectoral revisions point to a deeper weakness in the service sectors than had been previously factored in. Take Trade, Hotels, Transport, Communications and Services related to Broadcasting. As a sector it contributes almost 20% to GVA and is the largest GVA component after the other major services category, Financial, Real Estate and Professional Services. While in February Q1, Q2 and Q3 growth for the sector was estimated at 5.7%, 5.8% and 5.9%, respectively, in the latest estimates they have been cut to 3.5%, 4.1% and 4.3%, respectively.

•Similarly, the growth estimates for the largest services sector, which contributes almost one-fourth of the overall GVA, too have been reduced sharply. Q1, Q2 and Q3 growth has been cut from 6.9%, 7.1% and 7.3%, respectively to 6%, 6% and 3.3%, respectively.

•The revisions, however, show two other key sectors in a more positive light. Agriculture’s growth for the first three quarters has been marginally increased while Public Administration too as a category has had its numbers boosted for the second and third quarters. The latter sector’s Q1, Q2 and Q3 growth have been revised from 8.7%, 10.1% and 9.7%, respectively, to 7.7%, 10.9% and 10.9%.

How relevant is the GVA data given that headline growth always refers to GDP?

•The GVA data is crucial to understand how the various sectors of the real economy are performing. The output or domestic product is essentially a measure of GVA combined with net taxes. While GDP can be and is also computed as the sum total of the various expenditures incurred in the economy including private consumption spending, government consumption spending and gross fixed capital formation or investment spending, these reflect essentially on the demand conditions in the economy. From a policymaker’s perspective it is therefore vital to have the GVA data to be able to make policy interventions, where needed. Also, from a global data standards and uniformity perspective, GVA is an integral and necessary parameter in measuring a nation’s economic performance, and any country which seeks to attract capital and investment from overseas does need to conform to the global best practices in national income accounting.

What are the drawbacks in using GVA to measure economic growth?

•As with all economic statistics, the accuracy of GVA as a measure of overall national output is heavily dependent on the sourcing of data and the fidelity of the various data sources in capturing the vast labyrinth of activities that constitute a nation’s economic life. To that extent, GVA is as susceptible to vulnerabilities from the use of inappropriate or flawed methodologies as any other measure. In a June 2019 research paper titled ‘India’s GDP Mis-estimation: Likelihood, Magnitudes, Mechanisms, and Implications,’ former Chief Economic Adviser Arvind Subramanian of Harvard University and the Peterson Institute for International Economics posited that the change in methodology and data sources when India switched its base year to 2011-12 had led to a significant overestimation of growth. Specifically, he argued that the value based approach instead of the earlier volume based tack in GVA estimation had affected the measurement of the formal manufacturing sector and thus distorted the outcome. The paper triggered much debate and prompted the Ministry of Statistics & Programme Implementation to assert in a response that the Ministry’s GDP estimates were based on “accepted procedures, methodologies and available data and objectively measure the contribution of various sectors in the economy”.

📰 Bank loans contract again as business remains moribund

For fortnight ended May 22, bank credit shrank by Rs. 28,683 crore, RBI data shows

•Business activity failed to pick up even as the country has started to gradually exit from the lockdown as was evident from bank loans contracting for the fourth straight week, latest data released by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) showed.

•Bank credit contracted by Rs. 28,683 crore for the fortnight ended May 22, the data showed. Deposits also shrank by Rs. 19,843 crore after surging by a massive Rs. 1.27 lakh crore in the previous fortnight.

•In the current financial year, so far, the contraction in bank credit has been Rs. 1.48 lakh crore while deposits have shown growth of Rs. 2.63 lakh crore.

•Loan demand remained weak despite the RBI reducing interest rates sharply since the lockdown was imposed. At end March, the RBI reduced the repo rate by 75 basis points (bps), and then again by 40 bps on May 22.

•The repo rate now stands at 4%. The central bank has hinted that more rate cuts could be coming as RBI Governor Shaktikanta Das emphasised on the need for going ‘full throttle’ to revive consumption and investment.

Credit demand may rise

•Bankers expect credit demand to pick up in the coming days as more borrowers avail themselves of the Centre’s full credit guarantee scheme through which Rs. 3 lakh crore will be extended, mainly to micro, small and medium enterprises.

•They also said while loans have been sanctioned under the scheme from the beginning of this month, borrowers are yet to avail of the full disbursement as they wait for more economic activity to resume along with more unlocking.

📰 Serotonin triggers desert locust swarms

Recluses though they are, locusts team up during harvest

•During the last 10 days, there has been a host of analytical articles in the press about the latest locust swarming from the Rajasthan/Gujarat desert region, all the way into Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, causing extensive damage to the crops. These articles have also pointed out how India (and indeed Pakistan as well) has been handling this plague since centuries, indeed even since the Mahabharata times (recall how Karna challenged the Pandava’s army: “we will pounce on you, as — shalabasana — a swarm of locusts). The British colonial government had set up Locust Warning Organizations (LWOs) since the early 1900s at Jodhpur and Karachi in the Indian subcontinent. After Independence, the Union Ministry of Agriculture has continued and improved upon the LWOs, one with administrative affairs at Faridabad, near New Delhi, and another LWO at Jodhpur, Rajasthan, where the technical aspects are handled along with local branches in the region. They use the technique of aerial spray of insecticides (using drones these days), as well as spraying by land-based workers in the field. And they are doing a good job of it.

Locust control

•The Agriculture Ministry uses a site called <>, which gives considerable details of the problem of locust control and plant protection, and the current methods of handling them. The Directorate of Plant Protection, Quarantine and Storage, at the Ministry has a site, <>, which details the contingency plan for desert locust invasions, outbreaks and upsurges.

•The locust problem is not confined to India alone, but most of Africa, West Asia, Iran and even parts of Australia. The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO, this is a part of the United Nations, and based in Rome, Italy) co-ordinates and helps these nations with advice and funds in combating this plague. The informative document from FAO, called the Locust Environmental Booklet, gives an update on the situation and methods of handling locust swarms. And an excellent update (available online) on ‘locust swarm and its management’ has been published on May 29 by the ICRISAT Development Centre (IDC) of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), based in Hyderabad.

•By and large, “detect the swarm and kill it as it moves” has been the method, and countries across the world are using it. We certainly need better and more innovative methods to fight this plaque and win over it.

How locusts form swarms

•This however raises the important scientific question of how and why locusts collect together by the thousands in order to make a swarm. Insect biologists have long since known that the locust is by nature a recluse and a singleton, not mixing with others in the same group, Yet, when the harvest season arrives, these singletons team up with others as an army of swarms to attack plants for food. What is the mystery? What is the biological mechanism by which this sociological transformation comes about? If we know this mechanism, there can be novel ways of stopping this group rampage.

•Stephen Rogers of Cambridge University, U.K. (and University of Sydney, Australia) is an acknowledged world expert in the study of how and why such swarms come about. In one of his papers, way back in 2003, he showed that when solitary locusts happen to come near each other (looking for food) and happen to touch each other, this tactile stimulation, even just in a little area of the back limbs, causes their behaviour to change. This mechanical stimulation affects a couple of nerves in the animal’s body, their behaviour changes, leading to their coming together. And if more locusts come nearby, the crowding starts, and what was once a simple looking insect becomes larger in size and shape, and its colour and morphology changes. In the next paper, his group showed substantial changes in some molecules that modulate the central nervous system of the locust, the most important among them being serotonin, which regulates mood and social behaviour. And putting all these together, they came out with a publication in Science in 2009 <>, that serotonin is indeed responsible for swarm formation. In this paper, they did a lab experiment wherein they placed locusts in a container one by one, and as the numbers increased, the coming together triggered mechanical (touch) and neurochemical (serotonin) stimulations to make crowding (‘gregarisation’) occur within a few hours! Interestingly, when they started adding substances that inhibit the production of serotonin (for instance, molecules such as 5HT or AMTP), the crowding was significantly less. (For a comprehensive summary of this work, I recommend his 2014 article in the book: “New Frontiers in Social Neuroscience”, downloadable free at <>.

Stopping swarms

•Now, here is a potential way of stopping swarms from forming! Can we work with the LWOs in Jodhpur and other places, spray serotonin inhibitor molecules as the swarm begins to form? Rogers had indeed hinted this in his Science paper. Is this possible or a quixotic idea? Let the experts tell us. It is well worth a try.

•Finally, the insecticides (mainly malathion) sprayed on the swarms need to be looked at for side-effects. Though many studies have cleared it as not very harmful, we need to work on biopesticides which would be environmentally and animal/human health-friendly, using natural and animal products of India.

📰 What are some of the key terms being used to describe the novel coronavirus outbreak?

•The story so far: Everywhere you go, it has become impossible to avoid conversations about COVID-19, and most conversations are peppered with scientific terms that have now become commonplace. Here is a short glossary of terms that you might hear/use regularly, but may not understand entirely.

•COVID-19 — A term coined by the World Health Organization (WHO) to denote the disease that has led to a pandemic. On February 11, 2020, WHO announced a name for the mysterious disease originating in China, caused by a new coronavirus. It called it coronavirus disease 2019, abbreviated as COVID-19, where CO stands for corona, VI for virus, and D for disease, while the numerals – 19 refer to the year in which the first case was detected. WHO claimed it had consciously avoided naming the disease after the place of origin, to avoid stigmatising that country/area. The International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses (ICTV) announced “severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2)” as the name of the new virus, also on February 11, 2020. This name was chosen because the virus is genetically related to the coronavirus responsible for the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak of 2003. While related, the two viruses are different. WHO and the ICTV were in communication about the naming of both the virus and the disease.

•Epidemic — When the incidence of a disease rises above the expected level in a particular community or geographic area, it is called an epidemic. The outbreak started in Wuhan city in Hubei province in China, with what seemed then as a cluster of pneumonia-like cases.

•Pandemic — A global epidemic. When the epidemic spreads over several countries or continents, it is termed a pandemic. On January 30, WHO announced that COVID-19 was a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. On March 11, WHO decided to announce COVID-19 as a pandemic.

•R0 — R-Naught is the basic reproduction number. This is the number of new infections caused by one infected individual in an entirely susceptible population. It helps determine whether an epidemic can occur, the rate of growth of the epidemic, the size of the epidemic and the level of effort needed to control the infection. If R0 is 2, then one individual will infect two others. As of end May, India’s R0 value was in the range of 1.22.

•Co-morbidities — Several health conditions including uncontrolled diabetes and hypertension, cancer, morbid obesity, lung diseases, compromised immune systems put patients at greater risk for contracting the infection, and also have poor clinical outcomes. Special attention to prevent the disease and prevent mortality in these groups is the concern of health managers.

•Transmission — The method by which the disease spreads. In COVID-19 it is through respiratory droplets, expelled while talking, laughing, coughing and sneezing. This makes mask wearing and physical distancing the main tools for protection against the virus. Washing hands with soap and water is an effective way to kill the virus.

•Community transmission — When you can no longer tell how someone contracted the disease, or who the source of infection was. As numbers climb, this tracing becomes next to impossible.

•Contact tracing — Identifying and monitoring people who may have come into contact with an infectious person. In the case of COVID-19, monitoring usually involves self-quarantine as an effort to control the spread of disease.

•Super spreader — Some individuals seem to have the capacity to cause more infections in a disproportionately large number of people, than others. The current pandemic has recorded some super spreaders who have had a huge role in the transmission.

•Positivity rate — The percentage of people who test positive among all those who are tested. If positivity rate is high, it is possible that only high risk groups are being tested. A low positivity rate can also indicate that not enough testing is being done.

•Infection fatality rate — It is the number of deaths occurring in all infected people in a particular population. This includes those who might have the COVID-19 infection, but have not been tested for it. Given that the number of tests is not high, experts have clarified that this is not a useful metric to have in this pandemic.

•Case fatality rate — This is the number of deaths occurring among confirmed cases of COVID-19. Since these two figures are available with a certain amount of reliability, it is actually CFR that is being referred to when there is a loose reference to fatality rate.

•Severe Acute Respiratory Infection (SARI) — A respiratory disease also caused by a coronavirus, and spread through the same transmission method, i.e. respiratory droplets. The symptoms (fever, cough, body ache, difficulty in breathing) are also similar. The government has begun surveillance of SARI patients as also patients with Influenza-like Illness (ILI) admitted in hospitals too.

•Cytokine storm — An immune reaction triggered by the body to fight an infection is known as a cytokine storm when it turns severe. The body releases too many cytokines, proteins that are involved in immunomodulation, into the blood too quickly. While normally they regulate immune responses, in this case they cause harm and can even cause death. Experts have noticed a violent cytokine storm in several individuals who are critical with COVID infection. These cytokines dilate blood vessels, increase the temperature and heartbeat, besides throwing bloodclots in the system, and suppressing oxygen utilisation. If the cytokine flow is high and continues without cessation, the body’s own immune response will lead to hypoxia, insufficient oxygen to the body, multi-organ failure and death. Experts say it is not the virus that kills; rather, the cytokine storm.

•RT- PCR (Reverse Transcription-Polymerase Chain Reaction) — It is the primary test to detect COVID-19 infection across the globe. It is a sensitive test that uses swab samples drawn from the nasal/oral cavity to test for the presence of viral RNA (ribonucleic acid). It has got better sensitivity (ability to correctly identify those with the disease) and specificity (ability to correctly identify those without the disease) rates in current diagnostic tests for COVID.

•Antibody tests — These tests check your blood by looking for antibodies, and that just means you have had a past infection of SARS-CoV-2. Antibodies are proteins that help fight off infections, and are specific to every disease, granting immunity against getting that particular disease again. An antibody test, with poor specificity, is not believed to be effective in detecting new infections. States have been asked to commence testing seroprevalence in the community, using antibody tests, that are blood tests.

•Convalescent plasma therapy — Researchers are examining the efficacy of using convalescent plasma, that is, using neutralising antibodies from the blood of people who have recovered from the COVID-19 infection to treat patients with COVID-19.

•Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) — An antimalarial oral drug that is being repurposed for treatment in COVID-19. It has also been used successfully in the treatment of some auto immune conditions. Its value in COVID-19 has not been resolved entirely.

•Flattening the curve — Reducing the number of new COVID-19 cases, day on day. The idea of flattening the curve is to ensure that the health infrastructure is not overwhelmed by a large number of cases.

•Herd immunity — This is also known as community immunity, and constitutes the reduction in risk of infection within a population, often because of previous exposure to the virus or vaccination.

•PPE — Personal protective equipment, or PPE, is specialised clothing and equipment used as a safeguard against health hazards including exposure to the disease.