Hospitals afire: on lack of safety in health-care centres

The shocking deaths of at least 19 people in special facilities for COVID-19 management in Vijayawada and Ahmedabad have exposed the deep rot in regulatory processes for institutional and commercial building safety. While 11 died in the Andhra Pradesh incident, where a hotel had been taken over by a private hospital to run a COVID-19 care centre, nine patients perished in the blaze in a Gujarat hospital intensive care unit (ICU). These ghastly incidents which claimed the lives of those who were getting treatment or recovering from an infection in supposedly secure conditions lay bare the lack of preparedness among States to manage the expanding pandemic, and hasty contracting procedures. In a familiar pattern, civic and fire authorities who were expected to monitor the safety of such buildings have sought to pin responsibility for the carnage on the owners of the properties. They are being held responsible for failure to obtain a no objection certificate or, in the case of the
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Misplaced priorities: On controlling of coronavirus

The extended lockdown might have slowed down the spread of the novel coronavirus in India in the beginning, but in the absence of large-scale testing, tracing and isolation of the infected and their contacts, the virus has been spreading with renewed vitality. If it took 168 days to reach one million cases on July 16, it took just 21 days to double to two million on August 6; deaths too increased from 25,599 on July 16 to 41,641 on August 6. In recent weeks, the number of daily new cases reported across India has been increasing. Similarly, the number of deaths per day has also been rising; it crossed the 1,000 mark on August 9. Till mid-July, the daily fresh cases reported were well under 35,000 but increased to over 50,000 since July 29 and have been staying above 60,000 since August 6. Since August 3, India has been reporting the most cases in the world, surpassing the U.S. That the seven-day average test positivity rate is 9.4% underscores the large number of infected people
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Safety deficit: On Kozhikode aircrash

The tragic crash of an Air India Express ‘Vande Bharat’ relief flight in Kozhikode, in which 18 people, including two crew members, lost their lives and many were left severely injured, is a forceful reminder that there are no acceptable risks in aviation. Although an even bigger disaster was averted by the absence of fire in the aircraft, the crash snuffed out the lives of many returning home from Dubai after a long, traumatic separation from loved ones in the pandemic. Many Indians could not quickly return home from countries where they were employed, studying or travelling, although they desperately sought flights back home since March. For those who took that long-awaited trip on August 7, it ended in disaster. There are clear pointers to the dangerous nature of flight operations at Kozhikode airport in the midst of a strong monsoon, even with the availability of an instrument landing system for the “tabletop” runway carved into undulating terrain. There are problems with


Balancing priorities: On development and environment

Forecasts of ‘good’ or ‘normal’ monsoons are often beguiling and belie the ominous. This year, the annual floods that upend the Brahmaputra Valley have been followed by intense spells along the Konkan coast and Mumbai, and now Kerala, which until the end of last month recorded a slight deficit. The landslip in Idukki, that has so far claimed 43 lives and rendered several homeless, follows from a continuing spell of heavy rains in Kerala. Most districts have received three or four times more rain than what is normal. Last year too, neighbouring Wayanad saw multiple hamlets wiped out and the year before, the devastating floods in the State forced a debate on the need for new models of development. Landslips, or landslides, in the Western Ghats have a history. Following the 2018 floods, data from the Geological Survey of India showed that Kerala had experienced 67 major landslide events and several minor ones from 1961-2013. As part of a National Landslide Susceptibility Mapping (NLSM)


Alert amid uncertainty: On RBI holding interest rates

The RBI has prudently decided to keep its powder dry for now, citing the “extreme uncertainty” that characterises the current outlook for inflation and economic activity. Observing that the “unprecedented shock” from the pandemic has left the economy stressed, the RBI said that while the monetary policy committee recognised the primacy of supporting a recovery, it was necessarily mindful of its inflation targeting mandate. The picture on prices is clouded by many uncertainties. While the provisional June CPI inflation reading of 6.1% had edged over the upper bound of the mandated medium-term goal of 4% plus/minus 2%, a spike in food prices as well as cost push pressures from higher transport fuel and raw material prices were combining to obscure the inflation outlook. Vowing to ensure that the policy stance remains ‘accommodative’ for as long as needed to revive growth, Governor Shaktikanta Das emphasised that the RBI was ready to act on rates once a durable reduction in inflation was

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