Saving lives: On health facilities in India

After painfully negotiating numerous hurdles during the first wave that peaked in mid-September last year, India appears to have learnt little as a more ferocious second wave is ravaging the country. Precious time was wasted before critical facilities began to be scaled up to meet the demands of the second wave that is accelerating at an unprecedented pace, leading to health-care facilities being overwhelmed; the number of deaths shows a sharp growth of 10.2%. A mad scramble for hospital beds, oxygen, medicines, vaccines and even a quick funeral are witnessed in many cities. If the mindless rush for convalescent plasma and hydroxychloroquine even in the absence of any evidence of benefit was seen last year, there is now hysteria to get remdesivir for hospitalised patients, leading to drug shortages. Though a small trial did show that the drug shortened the time to recovery, the World Health Organization’s large Solidarity trial found no evidence of its benefit in reducing mortality,
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Vulnerability reminder: On credit-related corporate frauds

The U.K. Home Secretary Priti Patel’s reported decision to allow fugitive diamantaire Nirav Modi’s extradition to India, three years after state-owned Punjab National Bank admitted it had been defrauded to the tune of over ₹14,000 crore, serves as a reminder of the urgent need to address the banking system’s vulnerability to fraud. India’s lenders have had to contend not only with a sizeable share of sour loans but also a growing number and cumulative value of frauds. The RBI noted in its latest Annual Report, in August last year, that the total number of cases of fraud (minimum size of ₹1 lakh) at banks and financial institutions rose 28% by volume and surged 159%, or more than 2.5 times, by value to ₹1.85-lakh crore in the 12 months ended March 31, 2020. While the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic may have likely slowed the cognisance of frauds since then, the trend from the preceding years is deeply troubling from multiple perspectives. With frauds mainly occurring in the loan portfolio,
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Normal is good: On IMD monsoon forecast

The India Meteorological Department (IMD) has forecast a ‘normal’ monsoon for this year. In the agency’s parlance, normal implies that the country will get 96% to 104% of the 88 cm that it gets from June-September. This quantity, called the Long Period Average (LPA), is a mean of monsoon rainfall from 1961-2010. The IMD, for over 20 years now, follows a two-stage monsoon forecast system. After the prognosis in April, it gives an updated estimate in late May or early June. This includes an estimate of how much rain is likely in: northwest India, northeast India, central India and southern peninsula. Numbers are also given for July and August, which see two-thirds of the monsoon rains and are the most important months for sowing. This year, there will be forecasts for June and September too, to be given in May and August, respectively. Historically, predicting rain for June and September is challenging as it corresponds to the monsoon’s entry and exit. There will also be forecasts for


Cuba after the Castros

The retirement of Raul Castro as the first secretary of Cuba’s ruling Communist Party brings to an end the six-decade-long rule of the “historic generation”, who, under the leadership of Fidel Castro, captured power in 1959 through an armed revolution. Fidel remained at the helm of affairs in the island, in the face of growing hostility from the U.S. until he fell sick in 2006. Two years later, he handed the party to his younger brother, who had fought alongside him in the guerrilla war against the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista in the 1950s. Under the younger Castro, Cuba started taking baby steps towards opening up the state-controlled economy. He had also overseen rapid improvement in relations with the U.S., when Barack Obama eased some restrictions on the Cuban economy, travelled to Havana and opened an American Embassy. In 2018, Mr. Raul stepped down as President, handing government responsibilities to his hand-picked next generation leader, Miguel Díaz-Canel. Now when the


Steep climb: On BJP and the Darjeeling hills

The three seats of Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong in the Darjeeling hills of West Bengal may count for little numerically in the State Assembly of 294 members, but their political significance is a different story. The demand for a separate Gorkhaland State in the hills has singularly driven politics among the Gorkha population for more than three decades now. The agitation has been often violent. In 2017, during the last eruption of violence, the hills were in blockade for 104 days and several people were killed. The BJP’s close involvement with Gorkha politics suggests that it has certain plans for the region, which could have ripples in other parts of the country where demands for autonomy or separate States exist. It was in Darjeeling that the BJP got its foothold into West Bengal. From 2009 to 2019, the region sent a BJP member to the Lok Sabha. The BJP’s traditional position in favour of smaller States created an affinity for it, but more importantly, the fact that it had

Exiting Afghanistan: On U.S. troop pullout

Probing the sleuths: On the ISRO spy case

Loser Streak: On cricket, gambling and match-fixing

Another beginning: On vaccine vigilance

A small step: On abortion law amendments

Salvaging strategy: On scaling up COVID-19 vaccinations

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