Below the line

| Updated on April 12, 2020

Food logistics

While the government’s promised 5 kg of wheat or rice per month has been released to a considerable number of BPL families in Delhi, the assured 1 kg of pulses is yet to be distributed to many. Moreover, beneficiaries who have opted for wheat, are facing a peculiar problem. They are finding it difficult to get it processed, because reaching the mills during the lockdown is a serious challenge.

“We can somehow manage to eat rotis (wheat bread) without dal (pulses) but how can we eat raw wheat?” asked a person who had spent several hours unsuccessfully to look for a rickshaw to take her share of wheat to the miller. Maybe it will be easier for wheat-eaters to start eating rice during the lockdown!

Foot in mouth

It was a foot-in-mouth moment for the Joint Secretary at Ministry of Health in one of the routine Covid-19 press conferences on April 7, when he attributed an infographic made by a US-based researcher on one infected person affecting multiple people in absence of a lockdown, to an Indian Council of Medical Research study.

After much haranguing by reporters to produce such an ICMR study, when in reality there was none, the bureaucrat claimed that he had never made such an attribution.

Task force still needed?

More than 20 days have passed, but the government is yet to complete the task of setting up the ‘Covid-19 Economic Response Task Force’ under the Chairpersonship of Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman. In his televised address to the nation on March 19, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced setting up of such a mechanism to consult stakeholders and take feedback, on the basis of which decisions will be taken to meet the challenges. It was also said that the task force will ensure implementation of the decisions taken.

But a notification for setting it up is yet to be issued. At the same time, dedicated Groups of Ministers are meeting on a regular basis and providing inputs to the PM. Similarly, 11 empowered groups, headed by bureaucrats, are talking to stakeholders and advising the highest decision-making body. Summing up the whole episode, a senior government official asked when everything is happening — from consultation to decision-making — where is the need for a task force?

Will RBI blink?

All eyes are on the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to see if the central bank will ease the NPA recognition norms for banks in these difficult Covid-19 times. Even amidst all other measures, there is no sign of the RBI taking a call on this issue, rue bankers in private. Most bankers see the June quarter as a washout for banks if the NPA recognition norms are not relaxed.

With several industries, including IT, facing the Covid-19 heat, employees are also hoping that NPA norms for banks and lenders get relaxed so that they don’t end up as defaulters and see their credit scores get affected. “Why can’t the RBI relax the NPA recognition norm for all others just as it did for MSMEs sometime back?” question economy watchers. However, RBI sympathisers feel this may soon happen depending on the lockdown situation.

Politically correct retraction

One of the most prominent research journals in the world, Nature, has apologised for “erroneously” linking China and Wuhan to the current Covid-19 pandemic in its early news reports. The apology is appropriate as it is important to clear “the racial stigma” attached; and to not just blame one country for the pandemic — as done by US President Donald Trump and Eduardo Bolsonaro, son of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and a lawmaker. One Indian scientist, though, wondered the sudden retraction is an desperate move to be politically correct.

After all, a large number of major academic institutions in the developed world — particularly in Australia, the US and the UK — benefit a lot from tuition fees paid by more than 700,000 Chinese undergraduate, postgraduate and doctoral students. And, it was for the precise region of avoiding such stigma and adverse impacts that the World Health Organisation introduced guidelines in 2015 which categorically said a new infection or diseases should not be named after country or regions therein.

Our Delhi Bureau

Published on April 12, 2020

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