This week, we look at a food crisis, the mix of crackers and communalism, why India’s healthcare might just not be ready for Unlock 1.0, and other stories. But let’s start with the farmer suicide in Muzzafarnagar that led to protests.
Bringing farmers closer to the market
The central government issued a set of ordinances to create a national market for farmers which allows contract farming to protect farmers from facing price risks. The aim here is to improve earnings and boost investments in agriculture.
The government is looking at doubling farmers income by 2022 by creating these borderless markets. Through this, farmers can sell their produce in any state, even online.
However, it is yet to be seen how states will react to these guidelines laid out by the centre as agriculture is a state subject in the constitution, and states in the past have often laid out restrictions on trade when the supply is short.Read the interview with Niti Aayog’s Dr Ramesh Chand on the subject of one market.
Lack of Quarantine Facilities
Workers who are returning home to Balangir in Odisha are finding themselves stigmatised. They have returned to quarantine in makeshift spaces such as half-constructed temples, riverbeds, and agriculture watchtowers as they dread staying in official quarantine centres for the lack of social distancing.
It is tough for the returnees to find themselves comfortable in quarantine centres for the lack of basic facilities in the village. Read this report by The Hindu to find out more.
Farmer Suicide Leads to Protests
A 50-year-old sugarcane farmer committed suicide in Sisuali area of Muzzafarnagar by hanging himself from a tree, allegedly over payment delay for his sugarcane produce. The farmer had received a note from the sugar mill, saying that the weighing machine was not working.
The station house officer said that the deceased was “depressed” over the delay. The villagers say that he was in dire need of money, which led him to take this step.
The suicide triggered a protest by farmers who demanded that a case be registered against sugar mill officials for their failure to procure sugarcane from farmers and that the family of the deceased should be compensated with a sum of Rs 10 lakhs.
A Chemical Factory Blast
A boiler of agrochemical company Yashashvi Rasayan Private Ltd at Dahej in Gujarat’s Bharuch district exploded on the afternoon of June 3. At least 10 workers died in the accident and 70 received minor to severe injuries.
Most workers at the plant were employed on a contractual basis. They had migrated from states such as Bihar, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand.
The Food Crises
Around 144.5 million people eligible to be provided with grain under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Package (PMGKP) did not get their share for the month of May, data released by the Centre on June 3 show.
The figures also revealed that 64.4 million ration cardholders have still not received the grains that they should ideally have received in April.
Last month, The Wire had also reported that 200 million beneficiaries under the National Food Security Act (NFSA) with ration cards did not receive the additional 5 kilograms of grain under the PMGKP in April.
Also, India Today has found tonnes of wheat damaged as it was stored in the open at a government warehouse in Nagura of Jind district in Haryana.
In 2019-20, only 1,930 tonnes of food grain was damaged. But food experts doubt this figure is as close to 132 lakh tonnes of food grain in 2020-21, which is stored at open godowns of the Food Corporation of India.
Along the highway between Rohtak and Jind, the storage norms have been flouted where tonnes of old stock of wheat has been stored openly. Farmer unions allege that this damage is intentional and that the situation has arisen due to a nexus to sell rotten wheat for cheap.
Crackers and Communalism
The two cyclones that hit India one after the other seemed to bring about a lesser reaction amongst the higher-ups and celebrities than this one instance.
There was uproar right off the bat, and rightly so, when news spread about the pregnant elephant dying after she allegedly ate a trap (firecrackers stuffed into a fruit) that was set around to keep out animals from people’s lands. We shall be doing a separate report on this issue and its larger implications, but as it stands for this section, authorities in Kerala united to correct and counter the communal issue it was made into.
The district it took place in was Palakkad, not Malappuram, and no one fed the elephant forcefully, it was an accident, and investigations are underway.
Palakkad SP G Siva Vikram told The Quint that only one man, named Wilson, had been arrested, and he called the news on the arrests of two Muslim boys fake news. Two owners of the estate on which the incident took place, Karim and Riyaz, are said to be absconding. The link above also gives a good summation of the issue, along with debunking a few myths surrounding the case.
The Risk of Cyclones
Two cyclones hit India within a short span of time – Cyclone Amphan and Cyclone Nisarga. Cyclone Nisarga was a lower level storm than Amphan, and hence Mumbai was relatively unscathed. This cyclone was, however, the strongest tropical cyclone to strike Maharashtra since 1891, and also the first cyclone impact to Mumbai since Cyclone Phyan of 2009. Nisarga caused six deaths in Maharashtra, including three in Pune. The initial damage was estimated to be Rs50 billion.
As per the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report, by the 2070s, port cities like Mumbai and Kolkata could be most at risk due to coastal flooding and damage caused by it. Assam has also seen its fair share of floods and destruction due to the Bay of Bengal yearly cyclones and overflowing at the Brahmaputra.
Naturally, this would call for more attention to be paid to city planning and protection of farmlands in the form of compensation or other resources. As per a report by Scroll.in, IPPC author Joyashree Roy says, “We need different sets of building codes for various disaster-prone areas and they need to be implemented for all houses.” “What we also need are locally built safe drinking water sources that can be even ground water-based because the need is very less. For agriculture, we need better water efficiency systems so that water demand decreases.”
OTHER NEWS HIGHLIGHTS THIS WEEK
- Russia announced a national emergency after a fuel tank at a power plant near the Siberian city of Norilsk collapsed on Friday. Around 20,000 tonnes of diesel oil leaked into a river, spreading about 7.5 miles (12 km) from the fuel site and contaminating 135 sq. miles of the Ambarnaya river.
- Coronavirus has been known to cause diseases prior to COVID-19, all originating from wild animals such as bats and pangolins. In China, both are hunted and traded illegally, and this hasn’t stopped even in lockdown in India.
- Close to 750 tigers have died in the country in the last eight years due to poaching and other causes. Madhya Pradesh has reported the highest casualties at 173. 369 were due to natural causes and 168 due to poaching. There was also the seizure of 101 big cats between 2012 and 2019 by different authorities across the country.
- Western Coalfields Ltd. (WCL) opened three new coal mines in Maharashtra and MP on Saturday. These mines have the capacity of producing 2.9 million tonnes of coal. The aim of this exercise was to get Coal India to achieve a billion tonne production rate by FY 23-24. Union minister Pralhad Joshi also announced that the Centre would invest more than Rs one lakh crore in the next couple of years to increase the country’s coal production so as to reduce its imports. Joshi said that up most of the country’s electricity is generated by coal, up to 75 to 80 percent. A study has also now revealed that India would need to increase its current solar capacity to nearly 30 times, or about 1,000 gigawatts, to allow for the half a million people directly working in coal mines to continue working but on green energy instead.
The Healthcare Sector Is Not Ready for Unlock 1.0
The country is finally out of its lockdown. Streets are more filled and some traffic woes have resumed. While most industries and companies are heaving a sigh of relief over starting production up again, cases are still rising. But this is bound to happen – the more people meet each other the more that will get affected. And this is also not the crux of the problem – in India, 69 percent of the confirmed cases during testing were found to be asymptomatic, according to R Gangakhedkar, the head of the epidemiology division at the Indian Council of Medical Research (IMCR) in April.
What is showing itself to be the Achilles heel of this whole scenario is the healthcare management system and how private hospitals are unable to integrate into the system to deal with the outbreak.
Maharashtra Public Health Minister Rajesh Tope issued show-cause notices to four private city hospitals, namely Bombay, Jaslok, Hinduja and Lilavati Hospitals, for not adhering to rules with regard to COVID-19 treatments. Mumbai’s cases have been increasing by the day, but testing rates remain the same. Mumbai’s share in the state’s testing reduced from 55 per cent at the beginning of May to below 30 per cent at the end.
4,000 to 4,200 tests are being carried out, while Mumbai has the capacity to test 10,000 people a day. When asked why the number of tests has remained constant BMC’s Additional Municipal Commissioner Suresh Kakani said, “Earlier our contribution was more in the state because other districts were not testing as many people. Now other districts have started testing too.”
“Had the Government of India consulted epidemiologists who had a better grasp of disease transmission dynamics compared to modellers, it would have perhaps been better served.”
In Delhi, the new app released by CM Kejriwal to track beds in hospitals isn’t updated as it should be, confusing people and causing them to run from one hospital to another. On June 4, Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia stated that three more private hospitals in the city were going to be used for COVID patients. There is a change in the testing policy in Delhi as well, which limits who can get tested. One has to be symptomatic (unless they have comorbidities or are senior citizens), and also doesn’t include family members who have come in contact with the patient.
Most epidemiologists and medical research institutes state that there is community transmission in place in India. “It is unrealistic to expect that Covid-19 pandemic can be eliminated at this stage given that community transmission is already well-established across the large sections or sub-populations in the country,” the statement reads. “Had the Government of India consulted epidemiologists who had a better grasp of disease transmission dynamics compared to modellers, it would have perhaps been better served,” it adds.
There is also a great difference in the charge levied if one is admitted to the hospital depending on the state. While Delhi has arrived at a rate of Rs. 15,000 to Rs. 35,000 (depending on different wards and ICUs) as per The Association of Healthcare Providers, which claims to represent the vast majority of private hospitals, Tamil Nadu has capped prices at no more than Rs.7500 per day for private hospitals. This includes patients who are asymptomatic and mildly symptomatic. For ICUs, no more than Rs. 15,000 a day can be charged.
A report by a COVID-19 Task Force that is made up of public health experts from AIIMS, JNU, BHU among others, states that the present spike in cases could’ve been prevented if migrant workers had been allowed to go home before the imposition of the lockdown.
With things opening up more and more gradually, there needs to be a way to bring in private sector hospitals more seamlessly into handling the COVID cases, which also ensures that the hospitals are able to sustain their businesses. It is also surprising that more hadn’t been done to integrate private hospitals better, considering that there was a lockdown in place and time to cope with rising cases. This is not a fight the public healthcare system can face on its own.
OTHER NEWS HIGHLIGHTS THIS WEEK:
- Gilead’s Remdesivir has been approved to treat patients who are heavily symptomatic in India. The antiviral drug is used for emergency uses for five doses and has been given emergency clearance by the US Food and Drug Administration last month and also received approval by Japanese health regulators.
- The Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) has asked resident welfare associations for help in tracking COVID cases in Bengaluru. This comes at a time where the city saw 188 new cases on Saturday along with nine new areas being added to the containment zones list.
- The number of containment zones has been rising, with Delhi, Pune, and Bengaluru adding new zones on a frequent basis. While the entirety of Pune is in the red zone, certain places that haven’t been as badly hit have been allowed to open up. On May 18th, Delhi had a total of 73 containment zones which increased to 83 on May 24th. It now has around 150 containment zones as of Friday.
We have all heard about George Floyd for the last week or two. The nation has mourned him and lambasted the USA like he was one of our own. This is a lovely sentiment, but an empty one, if one isn’t able to introspect.
South Asian cultures have different flavours of racism – they’re steeped in caste, religion, and the colour of peoples’ skins. One thing that was highlighted while celebrities, spokespersons, and the Indian diaspora mourned George Floyd, was that where was this indignance during the Delhi riots, the clamping down on Shaheen Bhag, the arrest of students who exercised their peaceful right to protest and when Kashmir was gagged for months on end?
Armchair activism for a culture you don’t fully belong to is easy – no one expects anything from you personally because you don’t really belong. You can be an ally, but you wouldn’t be expected to fully understand. But when it comes to performative wokeness wherein one ignores the systemic faults in your own culture and country, of a place you belong to, what is the point of any of it?
So for this newsletter’s reading list, we’ve added resources that discuss the intersection of Indian/South Asian cultures with race, caste, and religion. We hope you find it useful.
What we are reading:
Equality Labs’s Community Based Research team produces rigorous and relevant evidence to ground and inform public debates around caste, gender, and religious minorities throughout South Asian and the diaspora.