1. How lockdown has impacted Indian farmers, their yields

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper III; Economics

The Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI), Harvard T H Chan School of Public Health and the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture (CSA, Hyderabad), recently completed the telephone survey, covering 1,429 agricultural households in 200 districts. It was conducted between May 3 and May 15, and the same households will be surveyed one month and then two months from now.

Key findings

  • 10% of farmers could not harvest their crop in the past month and 60% of those who did harvest reported a yield loss. Many reported that this was because of lockdown-related issues such as low market price or inability to access their land due to travel restrictions. Several farmers also reported severe weather and water scarcity/lack of irrigation, which are persistent challenges in the agricultural sector and will need to be addressed as the slower-burning climate crisis continues in the midst of the pandemic.

  • 1 in 4 farmers reported storing their crops instead of selling them due to the lockdown and 12% of farmers were still trying to sell their crops. Small/marginal farmers were significantly less likely to be able to sell their crops as compared to large farmers.

  • 56% of farmers reported that the lockdown has impacted their ability to prepare for the upcoming sowing season. In particular, 50% of these said that they were concerned about being able to afford inputs, particularly seeds and fertiliser, and 38% were concerned about labor shortages.

Source: The Indian Express

2. Schools in a number of European countries have begun to reopen. A look at why it was felt necessary at this stage, how countries have addressed various concerns, and where India stands on reopening schools.

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper I; Social Issues

On Sunday, India decided to keep schools closed for another two weeks. In Europe, millions of children are returning to classrooms.

Why are schools reopening in Europe?

Most countries have imposed strict lockdown measures to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus. School opening is central to any government’s efforts to restart the economy. It is difficult for adults to go back to work if schools and daycare centres are still closed.

This is why countries like Norway, Denmark, Poland and France are reopening schools by bringing back the youngest first.

Also, the welfare benefits to keeping schools open are far greater for students from underprivileged backgrounds. When schools close, their nutrition is compromised.

Will reopening make children vulnerable?

Scientific research on children with Covid-19 is still an emerging area. Published studies so far indicate that incidence among kids is low compared to adults, but older children report more cases.

Infected children do not fall as severely ill as adults, with most recovering without hospitalisation. However, the precise role of children in the transmission of the virus is unclear.

CALLS FOR CAUTION: A study headed by Germany’s leading virologist, Christian Drosten, has found that infected children have pretty much the same concentration of the virus in their respiratory passages as adults.

CALLS FOR REOPENING: Some experts are calling on governments worldwide to allow all children to go back to school.

Society has to reopen, children need to return to school as there are negatives for many of having to stay at home and we need to be able study transmission dynamics in all ages to help us learn how to manage this virus. Slowly opening schools in a controlled way will be of low risk to children’s health and less risk to teachers.

The consensus in Denmark is that children may be susceptible to Covid-19 but generally have a very mild course of the disease, often without any symptoms, and therefore also not likely to be infectious, and children are not considered important to the epidemic.

What does school life look like in Europe?

Schools are required to follow guidelines issued by the health authorities of their respective countries. Measures include a strict hand hygiene routine for students, no entry of parents into school buildings, outdoor classes and a physical distance of at least one metre between two desks.

DENMARK: In Denmark, large morning assemblies are avoided. When grades 1 to 5 were opened from April 15, each pupil had her desk set two metres apart from her nearest neighbour. This was changed last week to one metre to fit in students of grades 6 to 9. Students are expected to wash hands immediately after entering school premises, in between periods, before and after eating, before leaving for home and after every time a student coughs or sneezes into her hands, under Danish Health Authority (DHA) guidelines. The DHA has also created videos offering tips to parents and to children directly.

School playgrounds are demarcated into zones with young students allowed to play only in small groups, preferably with the same set of friends every day. Handshake, high fives, kiss on the cheek or a hug and sharing of toys and food are prohibited. Students of one class are discouraged from mingling with their counterparts in other classes. Children leave classrooms at staggered times. Toilets are cleaned twice daily and all frequently-touched surfaces are disinfected twice daily.

FRANCE: France, which is progressively opening schools starting with kindergartens and elementary schools from May 11 and secondary schools from May 18, has capped the maximum student strength of a classroom at 10 students for preschools and 15 for others. Parents are expected to take their child’s temperature every day before leaving for school.

Masks are prohibited for nursery students, not recommended for elementary school students and compulsory for teachers and staff.

Aside from a strict handwashing routine, a minimum distance of one metre is mandated between desks, contact sports are banned, and classrooms are to be ventilated before students arrive, during each recess, at lunchtime and in the evening during cleaning. Parents are not allowed into school buildings.

Is it compulsory for parents to send their children to school?

European country has made it compulsory for parents to send their children to school. But the decision to reopen schools was met with some resistance. After France announced its decision, more than 300 mayors in the Paris region signed an open letter to the President criticising the timeline as unrealistic and saying schools would need more time to implement the hygiene guidelines.

In Denmark, Facebook groups were created by parents objecting to the reopening. In Norway, the government-owned broadcaster NRK aired a poll in the third week of April that found 24% of parents did not want to send their children back to pre-school and 13% said they were unsure.

What about schools in India?

Guidelines issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs on Sunday extended the classroom shutdown for another two weeks, till the end of the month. There hasn’t been much public debate on reopening of schools in the country, although some have expressed an inclination to get students back in June. Navodaya Vidyalaya Samiti has written to the HRD Ministry seeking permission to reopen Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalayas from June 8. The Kerala and Gujarat governments too are keen on getting students back in June. However, no announcements are expected unless the Home Ministry clears reopening.

Source: The Hindu

3. India domestic flights resume: How your flight experience changes, what you pay

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper III; Economics

After almost two months of flights being grounded, the government has allowed airlines to resume them from Monday. But there will be restrictions and strict procedures: flights will run at only one-third of pre-lockdown capacity; passengers, airlines and airports will need to follow standard operating procedures issued by the Ministry of Civil Aviation; passengers will also need to adhere to health protocols prescribed by the destination state or Union Territory government, which would include whether or not they need to go into quarantine after landing.

While India’s largest airline IndiGo opened up bookings from 10 pm on Thursday, other airlines were yet to do so; AirAsia India said it would start on Friday.

Which airports will flights initially connect?

While the government has allowed airlines to operate from all airports, the airlines will take the final decision on which airports to include in their network depending on demand. This will depend on a number of factors, including whether the respective states have allowed complementary mobility infrastructure such as public transport to and from airports. According to some airline officials, flights on some trunk routes such as Delhi-Mumbai, Delhi-Bengaluru, Mumbai-Bengaluru, Ahmedabad-Mumbai, etc may be resumed initially

What will be the air fares?

The government has issued a price cap and a floor to keep the fares under control, given that there will be a surge in demand that, if left to market forces, could cause fares to skyrocket. Additionally, 40 per cent of the tickets on any flight will have to be sold below the median price. Fare limits have been divided into seven bands according to the flight duration. The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) issued a set of fare buckets with the ceiling and floor for each band (see box).

How does the pre-flight experience change?

To begin with, passengers have been asked to report at least two hours before departure time. It will be mandatory for passengers to wear a face mask, and a self-declaration or safe status on Aarogya Setu app (for those with compatible devices) will be obtained to ensure that the passenger is free of Covid-19 symptoms. Passengers with “red status” on the app will not be permitted to travel.

While entering the airport terminal building, the passenger will have to undergo thermal screenings. At the airport, no physical check-in at the counters will be allowed. Only those passengers with confirmed web check-in will be allowed to enter the airport. Further, the passenger will also be required to print the baggage tag and affix it prominently on the baggage. Passengers have been advised to carry minimum baggage as use of trolleys will be permitted sparingly. In addition, only one cabin baggage item will be allowed.

The Ministry has strongly advised passengers not to arrive at the airport at the last minute given that it is expected that processes will be slower than before. For security check, arrangements have been made at airports to guide passengers to walk through the pre-embarkation security screening. Security staff have been instructed to practice “minimum touch” concept to reduce physical contact with the passengers.

The government has advised vulnerable people such as very elderly, pregnant women or passengers with health issues to avoid air travel. There will be a waiting area after the security hold area where passengers have been advised to maintain social distancing and sanitisation protocols. Chairs for seating will also be open, but those marked “not for use” should not be occupied.

Food and beverages, and retail outlets inside the airport terminal building will be open but passengers have been advised to maintain hygiene and social distancing.

While boarding, passengers will need to self-check-in using their boarding passes by scanning it at the equipment near the boarding gate. Passengers will be provided a safety kit comprising three-layered surgical masks, face shield and sanitisers from their airlines at the boarding gates. They will be asked to wear the mask, face shield and sanitise their hands before proceeding to the boarding gate.

How does the in-flight experience change?

Inside the aircraft, no meal services will be made available, nor will newspapers, magazines, and even on-board sale of items being prohibited to minimise physical contact. Passengers have been advised to minimise use of the lavatory and to avoid any non-essential movement in the aisles.

Passengers will not be allowed to consume any eatables during the flight except on grounds of health requirements. Additionally, water bottles will be made available by the airline in the galley area or on the seats.

If any passenger feels uncomfortable or fatigued, or has a cough, it should be brought to the notice of the crew.

Airlines have been advised to clean and sanitise the lavatories after every one hour of flight and to clear the seat pockets of all items except the safety card, which will be replaced or sanitised after every flight.

Upon landing of the flight, the airlines have been asked to ensure that passengers exit in a sequence to avoid any bunching.

How does the post-flight experience change?

The baggage will arrive in batches and the passengers have been advised to wait in the hold area. The airport operators have been advised to put social distance markings like a circle, square around the baggage collection carousel. Further, they have been told to ensure staggered placement of baggage on the arrival carousel. Upon landing, passengers will be allowed to take only authorised taxis to leave the airport.

Most importantly, they will need to adhere to health protocols as are prescribed by the destination state or Union Territory government. This will determine whether or not an arriving passenger should undergo a quarantine period. A senior Civil Aviation Ministry official said that ideally the passengers need not undergo repetitive quarantining but the ultimate decision will rest on the states.

Source: The Indian Express

4. On India-China border tension

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper II; IOBR

Violation of peace after 2017

With four incidents along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in recent weeks, the India-China border is witnessing the highest tensions since the Doklam stand-off in 2017. In the three years since, both sides have done remarkably well to keep the peace. Prime Minister Modi and President Xi both agreed differences should not be allowed to escalate into disputes. Also, a clear message was sent to the two militaries to abide by the detailed protocols already in place, such as those agreed to in 2005 and 2013. These regulate the activities of troops in the contested zones that lie in between both sides’ overlapping claim lines of the undefined LAC.

Recent escalations

If Army Chief General Manoj Naravane wisely sought to cool the temperatures with his May 14 statement, China has unhelpfully raised them. On May 19, its Foreign Ministry accused the Indian Army of “attempting to unilaterally change the status” of the LAC. The stand-off in Ladakh appears to have been triggered by China moving in troops to obstruct road construction activity by India. Last year, India completed the Darbuk-Shyok-Daulet Beg Oldi (DBO) road which connects Leh to the Karakoram Pass. India also maintains a key landing strip at DBO at 16,000 feet. The broader context for the tensions is the changing dynamic along the LAC.

India has been upgrading its roads as it plays catch-up, with China already enjoying an advantage in both terrain and infrastructure. China now seems to be telling India it has no right to carry out the kind of activity that Beijing has already done. India is well within its right to carry out construction work. Delhi needs to remind Beijing that a fundamental principle that underpins all previous agreements is recognising the right to mutual and equal security of the two sides.

What needs to be done?

The immediate priority is for both sides to use existing channels and step back. Flag meetings between brigade commanders have so far been unable to break the stalemate.

The incidents have underlined how the new LAC situation is placing existing mechanisms under renewed stress. India and China should grasp the current situation as an opportunity to revive the stalled process of clarifying the LAC. China has resisted this as a distraction to the boundary negotiations. But rather than agree on a line, both can instead simply seek to better understand the claims of the other and reach a common understanding to regulate activity in these areas. Clarifying the LAC may even provide a fresh impetus to the stalled boundary talks between the Special Representatives. Beyond the posturing, both sides know a final settlement will ultimately have to use the LAC as a basis, with only minor adjustments. Only a settlement will end the shadow boxing on the LAC. With both countries in the midst of an unprecedented global pandemic, the time to push for a settlement to a distracting, protracted dispute is now.

Source: The Hindu

Q. On one hand, there are suggestions not to reopen the schools on account of fears of Covid-19, especially because children are considered sensitive section of society. However, there are arguments on the other side behind opening of schools. What are these arguments? Give atleast 7 solid arguments which justify re-opening of schools. (GS Paper I; Social Issues, 250 words, 15 marks)

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