The second wave of Covid-19 has hit India hard. Yesterday, on 19 April 2021, India registered 2,56,828 new cases, reported 1,54,234 recoveries and 1,757 fatalities. India currently has over 15 million cases. The death toll is over 180,000.
This sudden rise in cases led to a battle of political blame game between political parties. Allegations and counter-allegations are being leveled daily. The vaccine, the elections, the Kumbh Mela have been blamed for the spread of cases. The farmer protests, the rallies against Yati Narsinghanand are sighted by the supporters of the government as a reason.
The political blame game diluted the response of the states and Centre towards the Covid-19 pandemic.
The second wave of the pandemic proved to be much more deadly than the second wave. This exposed the lack of capacity building of healthcare infrastructure over the last year. Healthcare is a state subject. The state governments did not abide by their mandate to improve infrastructure in their states.
They made use of the makeshift facilities built during the first wave. Governments did not build up capacity for the future despite experts citing the learnings from the Spanish flu. The experts predicted multiples waves of the pandemic. This lack of foresight led to a shortage of hospital beds, racketeering and hoarding of medicines, and a lack of oxygen for treatment.
What Did The Opposition Say?
The Opposition has shifted goalposts during the vaccination. Led by Rahul Gandhi, the Opposition questions the government on the topic of vaccinating Indian citizens. They changed their tune after the government announced the rollout of the vaccine.
Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav said he would not take the vaccine terming it a ‘BJP vaccine’. Congress spokesperson Salman Niazi called it ‘a fraud.’ Senior Congress leader Rashid Alvi supported Akhilesh Yadav stating the vaccine could be misused as the government misuses investigative agencies.
The Bengal elections are now blamed for the massive spike in the number of cases. The Shiv Sena targeted the Election Commission of India (ECI) and the political rallies in Bengal. It said the virus spread more rapidly across from the states where elections were held or are underway.
Shiv Sena questioned Health Minister Harsh Vardhan for blaming the Maharashtra government over its handling of the pandemic. Criticizing the minister it said, “He has nothing to speak over the pandemic situation in BJP-ruled states like Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, and Madhya Pradesh.”
What Are The States Doing?
Corruption and shortage are common factors among states in the second wave of the pandemic. All states are suffering from a shortage of beds and oxygen supply. The drug remdesivir is racketed by scrupulous elements across states. The commonality ends here. Certain states have resorted to blaming the central government for their mismanagement. There is a suspicion of fudging data in government-ruled states.
Maharashtra is the most affected state in the first and the second wave. Activities in Maharashtra are responsible for the increase in cases of Gujarat and Rajasthan.
A negative RT-PCR test is required for travel. It is part of the Covid-19 travel protocol to ensure a passenger is not a health risk. Travel operators in Maharashtra provided fudged negative test reports for ₨ 500. The Mumbai police booked 38 people for traveling with fake negative RT-PCR test reports.
Corruption by the officials at the airport on duty for screening passengers for the virus led to an increase in cases. The civic officials of the urban local body in Mumbai let passengers go without the mandatory 7-day institutional quarantine for ₨ 10,000- ₨ 12,000. The quarantine was put in place for passengers arriving from the United Kingdom, Middle East, and South Africa.
Racketeering of drugs used to treat the virus is happening on a large scale. Police have arrested people from Nagpur, Pimpri Chinchwad, and Mumbai for racketeering remdesivir.
The government data in Telangana does not present a grim picture. There is speculation that the government is massively underreporting the figures. The last update by the government reported 5900 cases and 18 deaths in the state.
Hearing a batch of public interest litigation seeking direction to control the spread of the pandemic, the High Court chided the government over its decision to open commercial activities, malls, cinema halls, pubs, and congregations without imposing Covid-19 restrictions.
The High Court called the affidavit filed by the government in response to the PILs wishy-washy and disappointing. A bench of Chief Justice Hima Kohli and Justice B.Vijaysen Reddy said “We are very unhappy with your affidavit as it does not contain any of the details to check footfall in cinema halls and other public places?”
This has led to the imposition of self-restriction by a few associations and villages. The Hyderabad Kirana Merchant Association on 10 April, urged grocery shops in the famed Begum Bazar area to shut down by 5 pm. This is a preventive measure taken by the association to prevent the spread of the virus. It is reported there are around 300 cases in the area.
While authorities are trying to control the movement of people across borders through dirt roads, villages bordering the state of Maharashtra have self-imposed lockdowns in their area.
The capital city-state of Delhi reported a higher number of cases throughout the pandemic. In the first wave, military facilities in the NCR region were converted to Covid-19 centers. The Delhi government did not make use of its famed mohalla clinics.
The Supreme Court censured the Delhi government over its handling of dead bodies during bodies and termed the situation as ‘horrific’. The bench comprising of Justices Ashok Bhushan, S K Kaul, and M R Shah said, “Very sorry state of affairs in Delhi and inside its hospitals. Look at the treatment meted out to patients. The patients are crying and no one is looking after them. Relatives are not even informed, as reported by media, after the death of patients.”
An RTI application filed by Mr. Tejpal Singh corroborates this. Arvind Kejriwal came to power with the promise of making Delhi a social welfare state. He promised to build many hospitals and claimed credit for building them. However, in the reply to the RTI application filed Mr. Singh states that no new hospital was commissioned from April 2015 to 31 March 2019.
Every time the situation could not be controlled by the Delhi Government, the Ministry of Home Affairs had to step in. The Home Minister Amit Shah and his team ensured the Covid-19 cases brought in control. The Delhi Government has not learned from its past mistakes and is repeating the same mistake.
The state of Punjab registered the highest number of cases this week. It has been the center of protests since November last year. The Punjab government actively supported the super spreader events of the large-scale gatherings by the farmer unions.
While the number of cases in the state of Punjab is lower compared to other states, its tacit support to farmers at the Delhi border became a super-spreader in the adjoining areas. The Punjab government failed to make use of the ventilators supplied to the state under the PM CARES fund. 250 ventilators provided by the government lie unused in warehouses in Punjab.
The farm unions led by Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) are going to lead a protest march from Punjab to Delhi in the middle of the second wave. There is no indication that the Punjab government would prohibit them citing the current health risk in the country.
In a similar case, the state of Jharkhand has not utilized 60 ventilators sent under the PM CARES fund. The state government demanded more ventilators without utilizing the existing ones.
In the states of Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, and Madhya Pradesh there are rows of bodies cremated at crematoriums. The number of bodies being cremated does not match the data released by the state government.
The government of Uttar Pradesh has denied allegations of underreporting of cases. However, it ordered extra quantities of wood to meet the supply side of demand for the cremation of bodies in the coming days.
A similar played out in the state of Gujarat. In a statement by a president of a trust operating a crematorium in Surat, Mr. Kamlesh Sailor stated the reality of the situation. “Earlier 15 to 20 bodies were coming in a day and now around 80 to 100 dead bodies are coming daily.”
The Way Forward
The government has allowed vaccination for everyone above 18 from May 1. It allowed the manufacturers of vaccinations to supply 50 percent of produced to states on the free market. The state governments can decide the dosage required to vaccinate the population in their state.
The pharmaceutical company, Bharat Biotech has announced it has procured raw materials to produce 700 million doses per year. This should scale up the production of vaccinations.
It is up to the state governments now to co-operate with the industry to meet their requirements. Or will they continue to play politics?
All You Need To Know About National Institute Of Food Technology Entrepreneurship And Management Bill 2021
On July 26, 2021, Lok Sabha passed a bill under the ministry of Food Processing Industry. The bill is titled as National Institute of Food Technology Entrepreneurship and Management Bill, 2021. The main motive of this bill is to address issues with the Food Processing Industry, Entrepreneurship and one Institution for National Importance. With the passing of this bill, the Indian Institute of Food Processing Technology (IIFPT) and National Institute of Food Technology Entrepreneurship and Management (NIFTEM) is now merged as Institutions of National Importance, and it aims at providing various research and advancement in learning about the Food Industry and its associated branches. The bill was first introduced in the house in February 2019 but was pending due to protest by the opposition.
Significance of Institutions of National Importance (INI)
With the passing of this bill, the institutions enjoy greater autonomy through which they can carry out various courses, research attracting skilled faculties and students from all over the country and overseas. Good standards in education will be adopted to improve the present and future of education in this branch and sector, overcoming the technological gap in the country. This law aims to improve and introduce new changes in food, bio-nanotechnology, cold chain technology etc. The desired efforts will be taken in terms of human resources and infrastructure developments, labs for research etc. Liberty to open centres anywhere in India is also granted to INI and include courses regarding food technology certification and improving the workforce of the country.
Some other important features of this act are the Institution has been authorized with the Board of Government, Senate and other acting Authorities. The Council of Board will include 16 members from different branches from the same field. The Head will be Chairperson, who will be a skilled person from the Food Industry, the Director, Dean and Registrar. Members appointed from Centre and State Governments, Members from FSSAI and Council of Agriculture Research, as mentioned in the bill. The 16 members of the board will carry out work of taking administrative decisions, creating annual budgets and paths for institution progress as an organization, establishing departments, their appointment terms of services, faculties etc. The Board of Council also holds power to grant Honorary Degrees and Diplomas. The Senate shall be the principal academic body of the Institute, consisting of the people such as Director as the Chairperson; Registrar; Full-time skilled level Professor; and Three academically skilled Individuals nominated by the board from the field.
The Union Minister of Food Processing Industry, Mr Pashupati Kumar Paras, expressed his gratitude to PM Modi for this landmark step in this industry from his Twitter handle, indicating new opportunities in Food Technology Industries. Therefore, this Act looks promising on paper with new opportunities and in Educational Development. Amidst the Pegasus Spyware and repeal of the farm laws, this looks positive from the Modi Government.
लोकसभा में आज, राष्ट्रीय खाद्य प्रौद्योगिकी, उद्यमिता और प्रबंध संस्थान विधेयक, 2021 (निफ्टेम विधेयक, 2021) को पारित किया गया।
इस विधेयक के पारित होने पर इससे जुड़े हर व्यक्ति को बधाई देता हूँ और साथ ही खाद्य प्रसंस्करण से जुड़े छात्रों को भी बधाई देता हूँ। @MOFPI_GOI
— Pashupati Kumar Paras (@PashupatiParas) July 26, 2021
Fake News: Accountability Of News Organisations
Fake news is false news stories or hoaxes, which are deliberately released to misinform and to create chaos in society or among readers. Fake news is one of the main reasons behind the disruption of peace in society and it becomes more dangerous in volatile places. Fake news is generally shared with propaganda to mislead the audience by hiding or twisting the truth. However fake news isn’t new to the web, it recently became an enormous problem in today’s digital world. Fake news mostly comes from sites that are bogus or have sensationalized stories.
Most of the users do not check the facts before sharing the information on their social media, which can be a reason for widespread fake news. So, it is important to differentiate between fake news and authentic news to maintain harmony in society and to avoid false news and its repercussions.
Fake News Stories
- On 2nd April, a team of doctors, health workers, and revenue officials were attacked by the family members of a 65-year-old man who died of COVID-19 in Indore, Madhya Pradesh because of the fake video which claimed that healthy Muslims were being injected with the virus, reiterating the risks and physical manifestations of misinformation.
- On March 22, 2020, Mr. Modi’s new term ‘Janta curfew’ has sparked a buzz on the Internet. Social media users started interpreting PM Modi’s concept of ‘Janta curfew’ in their own ways. Social media was flooded with a certain ‘scientific explanation’ behind the curfew as to how it will break the chain of transmissions of the deadly coronavirus infection. The claim was found out to be misleading. PM Modi, while announcing the curfew, didn’t mention this particular ‘scientific’ logic behind it.
- Rumours were circulated on WhatsApp groups about a kidnapping gang operating in India’s western state of Maharashtra in 2018. The rumors eventually cause a mob lynching, that killed five migrant workers because they were suspected of being kidnappers.
- On November 13, 2016, when the government of India has demonetized Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes and planned to replace them with new Rs 500 and Rs 2000 notes, rumors were spreading about Rs 2000 notes. Rumors claimed the new higher denomination currency comes with a Nano-GPS chip which acts as a reflector, giving precise location coordinates of the currency to permit every note to be tracked. However, the RBI officials had dismissed these as false and said the new Rs 2000 note does not have a Nano-GPS chip as is being claimed on social media, WhatsApp.
- In the pandemic situation, where vaccination has become crucial, in a series of viral videos it was seen that people are claiming that magnet was attracted to the arms of alleged COVID-19 vaccinated recipients. This kind of fake news can create misconceptions about vaccines and people may not take their jab of vaccines. The Centre has declined the claims that Covid-19 vaccines can make people ‘magnetic’. It has also dismissed theories about microchips in coronavirus vaccines.
Need of Accountability
False information on social media can cause huge problems. It is often done to influence political processes. Need for Accountability increases in such situations because the false information provided by certain news organizations can create a ruckus in society. Before publishing the news, it is necessary to check the facts.
If the news organizations, shared misinformation unintentionally they must remove the content right away and they should apologize to the readers. If fake news is spread with propaganda to create chaos in society, then the news organization should be punished under the law. The information must be checked before sharing it with other people.
Curious Case Of Pegasus: Explained
Pegasus is a spyware that can hack the victims’ mobile phones and read their SMS messages and emails. The Pegasus spyware is owned by an Israeli software company named NSO Group. According to the various reports, this company has targeted more than 50,000 phone numbers at the Global level, of which 300 are in India for surveillance.
The news broke out after the 17 media partners investigated. This investigation brought into the picture information about a leaked database of mobile telephone numbers of Indian Ministers, Opposition leaders, journalists, the legal community, business people, government officials, scientists, activists and many influential personalities of the nation.
Pegasus Spyware and India
According to the report by the agency, the Israeli company which sells Pegasus around the world says that its clients are confined to ‘vetted governments”, believed to number 36. The NSO Group also says that ‘the target list in India is not ours, never was.’ Their refusal of the leaked database has created a loophole in understanding this case.
This whole case has violated the integrity of democratic institutions. According to the report by the agencies, after the mobile phones of the opposition leader Rahul Gandhi and various other leaders were hacked under the Pegasus spyware surveillance. Multiple tweets were made against the Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP) government in India. This whole case has become one of the major threats in the political arena and the Indian Democracy.
Though at the start, it was used for national security purposes. The explosive expansion of surveillance technology vendors has become a vast human rights and a global security issue. If such surveillance technologies increase, it might cause a lot of problems to countries around the globe. Hence, as a precaution, all these countries need to work on regulating this technology.
According to the reports by the agency, one of the targeted phones by the Pegasus spyware was of the former election commissioner of India, Ashok Lavasa. Various such people and such opposition leaders were somehow against the BJP government having their phones hacked with the NSO-owned spyware. All these instances and the names in the leaked list have pointed figures towards the Modi Government.
The Modi government’s stand on this case was put forward in Lok Sabha by two serving ministers, Ashwini Vaishnaw and Prahlad Singh Patel. These two leaders were also featured in the leaked database. The recent Information Technology Minister, Ashwini Vaishnaw defended the BJP government in the parliament by saying, “the expose was an attempt to malign Indian democracy and its well-established institutions.” She even said, ‘any form of illegal surveillance is not possible with the checks and balances in our laws and robust institutions.’
This case has adjourned the parliament proceedings due to the protests inside and outside the house of parliament by the opposition party.
Pegasus Spyware and World.
In the statement given to the agency, Access Now, an organisation defending the digital rights of global users, said it was outraged that products sold by NSO were allegedly “used to hack and invade the private communications” of thousands of people across the globe.
At a global level, France’s Emmanuel Macron was targeted in the Pegasus spyware case. As the phone of French President Emmanuel Macron was hacked, the investigation was carried out and later on was published which was directed by the Paris-based non-profit journalism group Forbidden. After this case came in front of the whole world, the Pegasus spyware surveillance came into the picture.
If this continues for some more time, it will ruin India’s Democratic values at a global level. As well as this might become a huge technological threat between the different nations around the globe.
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