The HINDU Notes – 03rd May 2021 - VISION

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Monday, May 03, 2021

The HINDU Notes – 03rd May 2021


📰 Centre faces questions over how it plans to use foreign aid

France sends 8 oxygen generators to India.

•France delivered eight oxygen plants on Sunday, four of which government sources said would be used for hospitals in Delhi, as questions were put to the Centre on the use of foreign aid.

•The consignment of about 28 tonnes of equipment sent by the French government to India was delivered to the Indian Red Cross Society at the Delhi airport and then transferred to the Centre.

•The sources said each of the eight “hospital level” oxygen generators would provide oxygen for about 250 beds each, and comes as more deaths due to oxygen shortage at hospitals were reported, including 12 patients who died at Delhi’s Batra Hospital on Saturday.

•“Each of these oxygen generator plants will make an Indian hospital fully oxygen Aatmanirbhar for more than 10 years. I believe healthcare can be a new field to develop our strategic partnership, building on our respective strengths,” said France’s Ambassador Emmanuel Lenain in a statement.

•The French Embassy also confirmed that the oxygen generators had been earmarked for eight specific hospitals, and that six would go to the Delhi/NCR area, and one each to Telengana and Haryana. The statement is a major departure from the government’s policy of not accepting aid that is “tied” to specific donees, and comes in the wake of a number of calls for the government to be more transparent about how it plans to route the massive shipments of aid coming in from about 40 countries.

•Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) officials told The Hindu that the process on how to route the funding, which is handed over by foreign governments through the Indian Red Cross to the Ministry of Health, is being coordinated by an Empowered Group of Ministers and officials, which is fielding the requests from various State governments.

•“Whatever is coming in from abroad is going to the Ministry of Health and then, depending on need, will be processed. Only some of the countries who have offered aid have delivered so far; we are monitoring them on the basis of logistics and the time frame they are being sent,” said Lav Aggarwal, Joint Secretary of the Health Ministry, in a briefing.

•On Friday, the U.S. State Department in Washington also fielded questions about the lack of a “website or transparent system”, as well as “accountability for the U.S. taxpayers’ money being sent.”

•Principal Deputy Spokesperson Jalina Porter replied that the U.S. had no response at the time, adding, “Rest assured that the United States is committed to making sure that our partners in India are taken care of in this crisis.”

•When asked, the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi’s spokesperson said that the U.S. is providing more than $100 million in assistance through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and that three of six planeloads of equipment and relief supplies had already been delivered, and the remainder is “on its way”

•“We refer you to the Government of India for information about the deployment and use of these materials subsequent to their transfer,” the spokesperson added, in a statement to The Hindu.

•On Sunday, the third U.S. aid shipment, containing 1,000 oxygen cylinders, was delivered at the Delhi airport. Overnight, Germany sent a shipment including 120 ventilators, and plans to send one mobile oxygen production and filling plant along with 13 German technical personnel later this week. Uzbekistan also delivered 100 oxygen concentrators, while Belgium delivered 1,000 vials of the medicine Remdesivir late on Saturday.

•Officials said that as several countries including the U.S., Germany and France are sending military and technical personnel to run some of the equipment being sent, the next logistical challenge will also involve ensuring that foreign personnel are assisted locally at the areas where the aid is sent to within the country.

📰 U.S. begins final phase of Afghan pullout

The military is deciding on what to ship back, what to hand over to the Afghan forces ahead of Sept. 11.

•The final phase of ending America’s “forever war” in Afghanistan after 20 years formally began on Saturday, with the withdrawal of the last U.S. and NATO troops by the end of summer.

•President Joe Biden had set May 1 as the official start of the withdrawal of the remaining forces — about 2,500-3,500 U.S. troops and about 7,000 NATO soldiers. He had set September 11 as the deadline for withdrawal.

•Even before Saturday, the herculean task of packing up had begun.

•The military has been taking inventory, deciding what is shipped back to the U.S., what is handed to the Afghan security forces and what is sold as junk in Afghanistan’s markets. In recent weeks, the military has been flying out equipment on massive C-17 cargo planes.

•The U.S. is estimated to have spent more than $2 trillion in Afghanistan in the past two decades, according to the Costs of War project at Brown University, which documents the hidden costs of the U.S. military engagement.

•According to defence department officials and diplomats, the withdrawal has involved closing smaller bases over the last year.

•They said that since Mr. Biden announced the end-of-summer withdrawal date in mid-April, only roughly 60 military personnel had left the country.

•The U.S. and its NATO allies went into Afghanistan together on October 7, 2001 to hunt the al-Qaeda perpetrators of the 9/11 terrorist attacks who lived under the protection of the country’s Taliban rulers. Two months later, the Taliban had been defeated and al-Qaeda fighters and their leader, Osama bin Laden, were on the run.

•In his withdrawal announcement last month, Mr. Biden said the initial mission was accomplished a decade ago when U.S. Navy SEALS killed bin Laden in his hideout in Pakistan. Since then, al-Qaeda has been degraded, while the terrorist threat has “metastasised” into a global phenomenon that is not contained by keeping thousands of troops in one country, he said.

•The insurgent group continues to accuse Washington of breaching the deal it signed with Mr. Biden’s predecessor more than a year ago. In that agreement, the U.S. said it would have all troops out by May 1.

•In a statement on Saturday, Taliban military spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the passing of the May 1 deadline for a complete withdrawal “opened the way for (Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan) Mujahideen to take every counteraction it deems appropriate against the occupying forces.”

•However, he said fighters on the battlefield will wait for a decision from the leadership before launching any attacks and that decision will be based on “the sovereignty, values and higher interests of the country.”

Mounting toll

•Violence has spiked in Afghanistan since the February 2020 deal was signed. Peace talks between the Taliban and Afghan government quickly bogged down. On Friday, a truck bomb in Logar province killed 21 people, many of them police and students.

•Afghans have paid the highest price since 2001, with 47,245 civilians killed, according to the Costs of War project. Millions more have been displaced inside Afghanistan or have fled to Pakistan, Iran and Europe.

•Afghanistan’s security forces are expected to come under increasing pressure from the Taliban after the withdrawal if no peace agreement is reached in the interim, according to Afghan watchers.

📰 Does India have adequate fire safety regulations for public buildings? 

Over the past few weeks there have been deadly fires in hospital buildings, including those treating COVID-19 patients

•In this episode we’re discussing fire safety rules in public buildings, including hospitals. Over the past few weeks there have been deadly fires in hospital buildings, including those treating COVID-19 patients, compounding what is already a severe crisis that the country is facing.

•The most recent incident was on May 1, when at least 18 people died after a fire broke out in a COVID hospital in Bharuch in Gujarat. A spate of recent hospital fires has also been reported from Maharashtra, at Virar, a suburb of Mumbai, and Mumbra near Thane and earlier in the year at Nagpur. 

•Fires breaking out in buildings, big and small across India is not a new phenomenon. The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) says 330 people died in commercial building fires in 2019, while fatalities for residential or dwelling buildings were much higher at 6,329. Electrical faults are cited as the leading cause of fires, but State governments are also widely criticised for being lax with building safety laws and for failing to equip public buildings with modern technology.

•What are the laws and regulations regarding fire safety and how much or how little various State governments comply with them? In this episode we try and answer the question of whether these incidents have been avoided with better compliance of the laws and what can be done in the future to prevent them.

📰 Image cannot be better than reality

On World Press Freedom Day, it is important to acknowledge the plight of journalists covering the pandemic in India.

•For the last two decades, I have been an ardent advocate of May 3 celebrations. I endorse the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) affirmation that this day acts as a reminder to governments of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom; it is also a day of reflection among media professionals about issues of press freedom and professional ethics. The website of UNESCO on World Press Freedom Day points out how this day is an important symbol of support for media who are targets for the restraint, or abolition, of press freedom. One of the key acts on this day is to remember and honour journalists who lost their lives to bring us stories.

•From Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s famous declaration that journalism is the best job in the world to broadcaster Edward R. Murrow’s observation, “It is well to remember that freedom through the press is the thing that comes first. Most of us probably feel we couldn’t be free without newspapers, and that is the real reason we want the newspapers to be free”, I have cited several instances to support my advocacy for a free press.

•When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and altered our lives in more ways than one, I was reminded of Amartya Sen’s words. In his essay, ‘Speaking of freedom: Why media is important for economic development’, he dealt with how a set of interrelated components of press freedom — its intrinsic value, its informational role, its protective role and its constructive contributions — become a bedrock for equitable development.

•While my world view about journalism has not changed, it is rather difficult to talk about the virtues of the profession when its professionals are paying an unusually high price for doing their job. I could not really come to terms with the vitriol that was directed at sections of the Indian press for pointing out the failure of the government in controlling and protecting people from the ongoing second wave of the pandemic in the country. I had to stop many times before I could finish reading a short statement by the Network of Women in Media, India (NWMI), which mourned the loss of more than a hundred journalists who have lost their lives in India over the past year. Apart from the anger and grief in the statement, I also noticed that fear was an inescapable emotion that ran through it.

•The NWMI statement read, “Journalists are the unacknowledged and unsung messengers who have been bringing to light the reprehensible disintegration of basic healthcare facilities in the midst of a pandemic, often reporting from the field, standing outside hospitals, morgues and cremation grounds alongside scores of desperate patients and relatives.” While this seems to be a simple truth to realise, I am truly at a loss to understand why governments — both at the Centre and in States — are not extending all the facilities provided to frontline workers to these professionals.

‘One-sided narrative’

•Instead of providing the necessary infrastructural support, the government of India is busy attacking international media. Major news outlets such as The New York Times, The Guardian, Le Monde and The Straits Times, and most TV channels, blamed the Modi government for ignoring warning signs, holding an extended election in West Bengal, and not cancelling the Kumbh Mela. Irked by the truth of these reports, instead of improving the delivery systems, the government wanted all its diplomatic stations to counter the “one-sided narrative”.

•It is time for news media to remind the government of an important recollection recorded by the scholar-diplomat and former National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon. He recently said on Twitter, “A former Foreign Secretary Venkateswaran used to tell us that it is a law of optics that image cannot be better than reality. Best concentrate on dealing with the crisis. The world has a stake in our success. Image will follow deeds and success.”

•We must realise that misogyny is the first indicator for the shrinking of democratic spaces. Al Jazeera carried an extensive report on how there was, and is, a sharp surge in the online abuse of women during the pandemic. Human Rights organisation Amnesty International published a detailed study, titled ‘Toxic Twitter’, which documented the traumatic experiences of many women on digital platforms.

•If journalism has to thrive as a public good, then it is important that journalists are alive to do their job.