1. Corona takes its biggest sporting toll yet, Tokyo 2020 Olympics get postponed till next year

Relevant for GS Prelims

The coronavirus pandemic, besides taking thousands of lives and crippling the global economy, has also affected the sporting world. The past few weeks have witnessed, either suspension or cancellation of many sporting events.

The latest in this series, is none other than the biggest sporting event, the Olympics. The Tokyo Olympic Games, which were scheduled to start on July 24 this year, have now been postponed till next year.

The Details

This decision to delay the games has come after a discussion between Japan’s Prime minister, Shinzo Abe and Thomas Bach, the president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). As per IOC, the games will now be held, not later than summer of 2021. Significantly, they will still be called, the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020.

Doesn’t come as a surprise

This decision was looking almost inevitable, keeping in mind the potential risk to tens of thousands of athletes, crew, staff and supporters from the Coronavirus outbreak. Just a couple of days ago, Australia and Canada had announced that they won’t participate in the Tokyo games, unless the event was postponed until 2021.

Not for the first time

The postponement of the Tokyo Olympics is only the 4th occasion in 124-year Olympics history that the games have been cancelled or postponed due to external factors.

The first time, the Olympics were cancelled was in 1916, when their Berlin edition were abandoned, due to World War. Later, the 1940 Tokyo Games and the 1944 London Games were cancelled due to World War II.

2. PM Modi announces 21-day lockdown as COVID-19 toll touches 12

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper III; Science & Technology

1. As the death toll from COVID-19 rose to 12, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday announced a 21-day lockdown for the entire country, stating that it was the only way to break the chain of infection. The lockdown will be in effect till April 14.

2. In a nationwide television broadcast, Mr. Modi said the pandemic was a huge challenge to every country and even countries like the U.S. and Italy, considered to have good health infrastructure, were struggling to control the situation.

3. “In such a situation we have learnt from the experience of the countries that have managed to get some control over the surge in cases, and these show that a lockdown for a sustained period of time is the only way to break the chain of infection,” he said.

4. Stating that it was the priority of both the Centre and the State governments to set up health infrastructure as fast as possible to deal with the pandemic, Mr. Modi said the government had allotted ₹15,000 crore for the purchase of personal protection equipment for healthcare workers, setting up testing laboratories and quarantine centres.

Image shows which services will be working and which will not during the 21-day lockdown

5. “Draw a Laxman Rekha outside your house door and do not step outside of it. Stay where you are. This will be the decisive battle against coronavirus,” he said.

Source: The Hindu

3. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, sworn as MP CM for 4th time

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper II; Polity & Governance

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, who was sworn in as the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, proved his majority in the Assembly on Tuesday. This is his fourth term as Chief Minister. After three consecutive terms, he had lost the election in 2018.

MLAs support

He mustered the support of 112 MLAs for the trust vote which was hurriedly organised overnight and was missed by 92 Congress MLAs and two independents. Two BSP MLAs, one of the SP, and two independents who were earlier supporting the Congress government that collapsed last week, voted in favour of the trust vote.

How could fall of Congress government took place?

The downfall of the Congress government was engineered by the resignation of 22 of its MLAs led by Jyotiraditya Scindia. These and two more seats in the 230-strong State Assembly remain vacant. The actual strength of the government will be tested in and after the by-elections to these seats. It is a different question whether the Congress can regroup itself and challenge the government.

Source: The Hindu

4. 21-day lockdown: Is India prepared to meet the supply requirements of foodstuffs?

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper III; Science & Technology

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi reiterated that the Centre and state governments will take all steps to ensure the supply of “essential items” during the lockdown to combat the novel coronavirus, which has now been made nationwide and extended for a further 21-day period.

What is the domestic availability situation in foodstuffs? To what extent would the restrictions on account of COVID-19 impact it?

There’s no real issue as far as production or supply goes for most agri-commodities, starting with foodgrains. As on March 1, stocks of wheat and rice with the Food Corporation of India (FCI) stood at around 77.6 million tonnes (mt). This was over three-and-a-half times the minimum operational buffer-cum-strategic stock of 21.04 mt required to be maintained for April 1. Moreover, the new wheat crop, which is a bumper one, will arrive in the mandis from the coming month.

The same applies to pulses, where the National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India or Nafed was holding 2.25 mt of stocks as on March 19. This, even as fresh market arrivals of rabi (winter-spring) pulses such as chana (chickpea), masur (red lentils) and matar (field pea) have started.

COVID-19’s impact will not be on production, given that most rabi crops are close to ripening, if not already harvested. The impact will be only on marketing the produce at the mandis and reaching it to the final consumer. Simply put, it isn’t a “supply”, but a “supply chain” problem arising from the various movement restrictions imposed under the ongoing lockdown. But for the rice, wheat and pulses with FCI or Nafed, even that shouldn’t be a problem, as the grain has to merely be moved from godowns and supplied to ration shops. This can, in fact, be an opportunity for the Centre to significantly offload its surplus foodgrain stocks – including to regular grocery shops at open market rates.

What about stuff like milk, sugar and edible oils?

These, again, are produce not brought to be sold in mandis. Dairies procure milk directly from farmers or through bulk vendors. The sugar that mills produce similarly comes from cane sourced straight from growers. Two-thirds of the edible oil consumed by India is imported. There, too, the problem of the crop having to first come to an APMC (agricultural produce market committee) mandi does not arise.

In the current lockdown situation, there are actually mitigating factors on the supply requirement front, particularly for the three food items. The most important of them is the demand destruction due to shutting down of HORECA (hotels, restaurants and catering) businesses. With hardly any business-to-business (B2B) sales happening, the demand for milk products, sugar and edible oil is now only in the business-to-consumer segment.

This has had two effects.

On the one hand, direct consumer sales of milk, curd, sugar and branded oils have gone up in the past few days, with households buying more in anticipation of shortages. R.S. Sodhi, managing director of the Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation, claims that the daily sales of ‘Amul’ milk are currently about 37 lakh litres in Delhi-NCR and 22 lakh litres in Maharashtra, as against their normal respective levels of 31-32 lakh litres and 18-19 lakh litres.

But on the other hand, sales of skimmed milk power (SMP) to ice-cream companies and cheese to pizza makers have crashed, as consumers aren’t eating out and focusing on basic foods. This has led to SMP prices crashing to Rs 250 per kg, from Rs 320-330 per kg till roughly 15 days ago, with some Maharashtra-based dairies mainly into B2B sales slashing their procurement price for cow milk from Rs 32-plus to Rs 20 per litre. In sugar also, mills are seeing less buying from the sweetmeat, soft drinks and HORECA segments. Nor are oil marketing companies lifting ethanol, a by-product of sugar manufacture used for 10% blending with petrol. The reason: People sitting at home and not taking out their vehicles.

The above demand destruction on account of B2B is, nevertheless, ensuring that existing supplies are enough to meet the requirements of household consumers or B2C.

So, which are the food products whose supplies are being affected?

Basically, fruits and vegetables (F&V), which are produce sold through APMC mandis. Fruit traders and commission agents at the Vashi market of Navi Mumbai have announced suspension of their operations from Wednesday, fearing the spread of coronavirus. Such closures are, however, more likely in terminal markets close to cities than the primary APMCs, where the bulk of farmers bring their produce. Right now, the fear of the pandemic is less in rural areas, though Jitender Singh Hooda, a sugarcane farmer from Kheri Bairagi village of Uttar Pradesh’s Shamli district, anticipates a 25-30% harvesting labour shortage in the coming days. According to him, many migrant labourers have fled to their villages in Bihar, which will hit cane harvesting when crushing operations in UP are at a peak.

What are the steps the government must take in the coming days?

In his first address to the nation on dealing with COVID-19, the Prime Minister mentioned that all necessary steps would be taken to ensure “no shortage of essential items like milk”. That specific reference has, perhaps, helped in the largely unhindered supplies of milk from the rural hinterland to urban centres across India. Unfortunately, the same approach has not been visible in other food items. Indiscriminately imposed inter-state movement restrictions have resulted in tomato-laden trucks from Madanapalle in Andhra Pradesh not crossing over to Bengaluru or brinjal and beans from Chikkaballapur in Karnataka not reaching Hyderabad’s consumers. Alphonso mangoes and grapes not being allowed to move freely will hurt growers in Ratnagiri and Sangli just when their crop is being harvesting.

There are similar reports about F&V collection and distribution centres of online grocers being forcibly shut down; sugar mills in UP running out of lime, sulphur and HDPE bags procured from Rajasthan and Gujarat; and labourers engaged in grading and packing of produce not being permitted to go their workplaces. All these impediments need to go at the earliest – like in milk from day one of the lockdown.

Source: The Indian Express

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