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Sunday View: The Best Weekend Opinion Reads, Curated Just For You

The Quint
·10-min read

Free Vaccinations Will be Better Than a Stimulus

Although many economists have urged for a major fiscal stimulus in the upcoming budget, in Swaminomics — his column for Times of India, SA Aiyar opines that the top priority of the budget should be to vaccinate as many people as possible.

It is the fear of coronavirus infections that has been dragging the economy, which no amount of fiscal stimulus can revive. Since free vaccines will be expensive, Aiyar advices that the government try to create a cess fund. “The best way is for the RBI to print money to subscribe to special Covid bonds. Never will there be a more worthy cause for printing cash,” he writes.

"“For decades, finance ministers have cloaked the true fiscal deficit through fudges like delayed payments and off-budget borrowing through public sector undertakings. This fudge was admitted and partly corrected by Sitharaman last year. The current crisis is a golden opportunity to clean up government books and end fudging. That may raise the formal fiscal deficit to 8% of GDP, more than double the budgeted 3.5%.But because of Covid, nobody will object, and India’s international credit rating will not be affected.”"In India, The Story of Covid-19 Vaccines

After some controversies around Covaxin’s approval despite the lack of adequate data, India has launched its ambitious vaccination drive. Given the country's experience in handling similar immunisation programmes, this shouldn’t be a problem, yet there are bound to be some glitches, Chanakya writes on Hindustan Times.

But as the Centre sets to vaccinate 300 million people in the first round of this inoculation drive, he writes that the health ministry has to start planning for what lies ahead — the gargantuan task of immunising the entire population.

"“One, India’s health ministry and regulator need to work on identifying and approving other vaccines...Two, the government needs to take a call, if not now, then at least by the middle of February, on open-market availability of the vaccines...Three, the government should also make it possible for institutions and organisations to launch vaccination drives for their students, employees, or members by defining the protocols for sourcing, financing (for instance, can corporate social responsibility funds be used?) and administering vaccines.”"Across The Aisle: ‘Curiouser and Curiouser’

P Chidambaram writes that he’s intrigued by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s statement where she said that she will draft a Budget “like never before”.

In Across the Aisle, his column for The Indian Express, Chidambaram writes that “what Sitharaman must do is different from what she can or will do.” Criticising the government’s previous budgetary actions, he points out that in 2020-21, the government did not do what was needed — step up its capital expenditure, cut indirect tax rates, formulate a rescue plan for MSMEs or provide cash transfers for the poorest families.

"“Many economists — among them Dr Arvind Panagariya, Dr C Rangarajan and Dr Jahangir Aziz — have reiterated that these measures should be taken at least now to revive growth. Recall that the GDP, at constant prices in the three years preceding the pandemic was 2017-18: 131.75; 2018-19: 139.81; and 2019-20: 145.65 lakh crore rupees. According to the First Advanced Estimates, the GDP in 2020-21 will be Rs 134.40 lakh crore. That means, just to return to the GDP level of 2019-20, the economy has to grow at 8.37 per cent in 2021-22. A growth rate of anything less will mean that the economy that will lose Rs 11 lakh crore (at constant prices) in 2020-21 will suffer a further loss in 2021-22. At current prices, which will be better understood by lay people, the loss in 2020-21 will be Rs 9 lakh crore (USD 120 billion).”"Making Privacy a Mainstream Debate

WhatsApp’s new policy update that has kickstarted conversations on privacy beyond policy circles, is nothing surprising, Prabhu Ram writes on Hindustan Times. It has been sharing data with Facebook since 2016, but the update has more to do with monetising user data to build a platform for businesses. While the company is “essentially threatening its users” with its “take-it-or-leave-it” policy, he writes that consumers are beginning to recognise that there’s a “price attached to this service”.

For those who are on the fence about whether to quit using WhatsApp or not, he has a word of advice.

"“Over the short-term, nothing much has changed. WhatsApp remains secure. WhatsApp remains end-to-end encrypted...However, all of this is immaterial if users keep shifting to other apps before May. You need to be on the same platform where most of your peers, business partners, and most importantly, your loved ones are.If you take a long-term view, the future will never be the same from here on for WhatsApp. The messaging service has now moved into a different trajectory — one focused on monetisation...There is no assurance that there will not be any further changes to the terms of use going forward. It all boils down to whether one is WhatsApp’s consumer or rather its product offering.”"Vaccine Efficacy Needs a Nutrition Booster

As India’s COVID vaccine drive rolls out, focusing only on immunisation while ignoring nutrition is likely to have consequences, K Srinath Reddy writes on The Indian Express.

A vaccine, he writes, triggers the antigenic stimulus but the antibody levels and the cellular immunity is affected by nutrition levels. While it wouldn’t be possible in a mass immunisation programme to supplement nutrients with vaccination, post-injection counselling would be a start. Reddy also argues for a reconsideration of agricultural policies that might enable people to have the access to healthy diets that can boost natural immunity.

"“Enabling people to consume healthy diets will boost natural immunity that can fight off microbial infection and also to build a robust immune response when stimulated by a vaccine.Are our agriculture and food systems presently configured to do that? Sadly not. We are presently offering cereals stripped of fibre and ultra-processed foods without adequate and affordable supply of pulses, millets, fruit, vegetables, nuts and fish which can provide us much needed proteins, vitamins, minerals and fibre. Even eggs are being removed from school mid-day meal menus in some states, despite their being power packed with the nutrients needed for immunity.”"Where The State Should Step Back

Why is it that the government tinkers with cigarette rules ever so often but not with beedis, Karan Thapar asks in his column on Hindustan Times.

If the government’s decision-making comes from a point of moral concern then why was the cigarette excise increased in the 2014 budget, he asks, but beedis were left untouched, when both are equally injurious? He writes that while MPs and Ministers put themselves on a pedestal where they presume to have the wisdom to decide what the rest of the citizens can or cannot do, their decisions don’t necessarily come from a place of concern but a “hidden avarice” for revenue.

"“If cigarettes are so bad for one’s health it justifies a sextupling of their excise, why not ban them altogether? That would be the rational thing to do. But the government didn’t because it would have lost a huge amount of revenue. On the other hand, eight times more people smoke beedis. Yet, if you don’t increase the excise on them, aren’t you saying you don’t care about the health of beedi smokers? On the grounds that they’re poor, it would seem the government is less concerned if they smoke themselves to death. This points to a second problem with the government’s tinkering with the rules of cigarette smoking. You often discover its misplaced moral concern is vitiated by a hidden avarice to protect the exchequer’s revenue.”"Winter Vigils

India has witnessed two similar yet different movements in the last and the current winter — the anti-CAA Shaheen Bagh protest in 2019 and the ongoing farmers’ protest.

When it comes to similarities, Mukul Kesvan writes on The Telegraph, that both movements were the result of protesting against laws passed by the government. The two protests also show a remarkable mobilisation by the Muslim and Sikh religious minorities. But the it is in the reception of the two protests that the difference lies.

"“The malignant instinct of the BJP to impugn the character and the patriotism of religious minorities has been on display during the farmers’ agitation. However, unlike the full-court press mounted against the anti-CAA protesters, which culminated in brutal, orchestrated communal violence, the Modi government has stepped more carefully with the farmers’ movement for several reasons...The movement inspired by the Muslim women of Shaheen Bagh was stifled by pogrom and pandemic but the farmers’ protests are ongoing. Despite their different trajectories, they teach us a lesson that we would do well to learn: in political cultures beleaguered by majoritarianism, mobilized minorities offer the most reliable resistance to bigotry and reaction.”"A Fast Fading Promise, of Growth With Trust

The Supreme Court hasn’t stood up for the citizens as it is expected to even as the government has been impinging on people’s rights, Dushyant Dave writes on The Hindu.

Sadly, although the implementation of laws like the “love jihad” ordinance strikes at the very fundamental rights of citizens, the Supreme Court has decided to examine the validity of the law but declined to protect citizens who are being charged with it, Dave writes. “What should a citizen make out of this selective administration of justice by the highest court of the country?” he asks.

"“Let us hope the Court does not put this case also in cold storage as it has done with many cases which the Executive may not want to be heard. Since 2014, the Executive has had an almost total approval by the Court of all its Executive actions, the latest being the Central Vista case. One can only wonder: does the government ever falter?The Supreme Court, which showed great alacrity in staying the implementation of the Farm Laws, ostensibly to save the lives of innocent people, failed to stay the implementation of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, resulting in avoidable violence that caused the deaths of many innocent citizens and damage to properties worth crores. Many people are languishing in jails following violence.”"A Covid Blessing

The pandemic has brought the country’s attention to the abysmal state of healthcare and education in the country, Tavleen Singh writes on The Indian Express.

While the blame for India having the worst public hospitals lies squarely with the Congress, instead of improving health services, Modi chose to “allow obscurantism to prevail until the pandemic made it impossible”, she writes. India’s education statistics is also equally sad and shameful she says.

"“The pandemic has brought with it almost no blessings anywhere in the world. It has brought death and horror and terrible suffering. But, in India it has brought with it a blessing or two. The first is that it has killed fewer people per million than in almost any other country and it has made us notice those areas of governance that have been horribly neglected for much too long. If they had not been, we would not face the possibility that millions of India’s most vulnerable children will not learn to read or write ever. It has made us notice that most government hospitals lack basic facilities like modern systems to get rid of medical waste...It is a shameful, ugly attitude that has developed over decades of callous ‘socialism’, but Modi could have brought the change that he promised. And he still can. It is no longer acceptable that India should have the best private schools and hospitals in the world and the very worst.”"Also Read:

. Read more on India by The Quint.Five Years On, Rohith’s Friend Chooses Different Path to Same GoalAllahabad HC Upholds Fundamental Rights Despite Challenges in UP . Read more on India by The Quint.