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LET’S STOP THE BLAME GAME AND FIGHT THE PANDEMIC

We have suffered enough in the second Covid-19 wave. It is high time we come together and fight this menace with coordination, discipline and mutual care. The Centre, state governments and people should work in cohesion to ensure a brighter tomorrow.

SANKALP MISHRA

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Ever since India started the largest vaccination drive in the world with an aim to vaccinate close to 30 crore people in the first phase, there were many voices in the political, journalist, and activist circles against the efficacy of the vaccines and the harm it may cause. This caused doubts and fear among the masses leading to vaccine hesitancy. There were many politicians, activists and even journalists spreading fear about vaccination.

Also, there was a lot of misinformation being spread around the vaccines at the same time. The most common misinformation were vaccination causing impotence, having a chip, and containing pork among many others. The misinformation ranged from affecting the religious belief to the personal well-being of an individual. Owing to the vaccine naysayers and the resultant fear many people decided against taking the vaccine. This led to a massive problem of vaccine wastage. In April, India wasted over 4.4 million vaccine doses. This is a huge number. Vaccine hesitancy led to a lesser number of people taking the jab which led to vaccine wastage due to contamination issues. This is because a vial of Covid-19 vaccine generally consists of 10 doses. These doses have to be used within a fixed period of about four hours after opening it. If a sufficient number of people are not there to take the vaccine then the leftover doses go to waste due to contamination issues. So, all the political commentators, activists and religious preachers who advised against the vaccine are directly and indirectly responsible for its wastage. Now, when the vaccination drive has been opened for all above 18 years and there is an acute shortage of vaccines, the same people are after the issue of export of Covid vaccines without blinking an eye about the great disservice they have done to the nation by propagating fear leading to vaccine hesitancy and wastage. 

Lack of Decentralisation of Covid Management: Right from May 2020, almost at the start of the first Covid wave in India, the Chief Ministers of various states in many discussions with the Prime Minister demanded decentralisation of Covid resources and autonomy in Covid-related decisions in the state. From June onwards, when the first lockdown started getting relaxed, more and more state governments started having autonomy in Covid-related decision making in the state. We saw many state governments trying to create a balance between economic activities and necessary lockdown while extending it. The governments permitted hotels, food courts, restaurants, and bars to restart at limited capacity even when the lockdown was extended. Different states started following different lockdown strategies that were custom made according to their necessity. Thus, states had more autonomy for lockdown decisions, containment zones, and economic activities. The Central government refrained from interfering in their decisions. Another demand for the decentralisation of resources was met through the PM Cares fund. In the allocation of resources using the fund, state government involvement was vouched for. For example, PM Cares Fund Trust allocated Rs 201.58 crore for the installation of 162 dedicated PSA medical oxygen generation across different states. In that, the different government hospitals where these plants are to be installed would be identified in consultation with the states/UTs concerned. Also, in the second wave, the states were given the monopoly to purchase vaccines directly from the manufacturer. Though the percentage of vaccine supply to the states is still debatable, it was a welcome step towards decentralisation of resources. Hence, the whole narrative was carefully woven to absolve a few of their responsibilities while shifting the blame towards the Centre.

Drawing Illogical Parallels: A lot of parallels have been drawn during the current second Covid wave between India and the other nations. A segment of the population has demanded a change in regime citing the handling of Covid abroad. People want a different Prime Minister and various international leaders have been chosen for the role. The front runner in this list of future Prime Minister of India was New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Not taking anything away from the excellent work she has done in a civilised country like New Zealand but drawing a parallel to a vast country like India makes no sense. Even if we just consider the vaccinated population of India, it is almost 36 times the total population of New Zealand. Also, illogical parallels and analogies are drawn between the health sector of India with the US, Europe, or Scandanavian countries knowing fully well that it is a legacy burden that the country bears due to the successive governments after Independence. The pandemic response of India, irrespective of the lack of infrastructure and the major glitches along the way, has been swift and commendable to a certain degree and the credit for it should go to the healthcare workers, frontline workers, and the governments working in tandem.

FIGHTING COVID-19

• There have been 23,45,99,583 registrations for Covid vaccines and 19,84,03,666 doses have been given to citizens so far

• Out of the 19,84,03,666 doses, 15,61,68,995 have received Dose 1 and 4,22,34,671 have received Dose 2 

• There are 44,319 sites conducting vaccination. Out of which 42,021 are government and 2,298 are private

• India became the second-largest PPE kit manufacturer with over five lakh kits manufactured per day till October 2020.

• The ventilator production was also ramped up to three lakh units per annum.

• India currently has over 2500 testing centres with 33,48,11,496 cumulative total samples tested till now

• The country has two locally manufactured vaccines Covishield and Covaxin

• India now has an oxygen capacity of over 9,524 tons of oxygen per day that was almost equivalent to the demand at the Covid peak

• For India to vaccinate a majority of its population, the plan is to produce/acquire 216 crore vaccine doses in place till December 2021 from different manufacturers.

WHERE WE WENT WRONG

Irrespective of the numerous narratives being spread to shift the blame game, it is crucial to understand the reasons behind the brutal second Covid wave in India. Here are some of the things that were wrong in Covid management:

Government Messaging: Ever since the approval of two vaccines by the Central Drugs and Standards Committee in January, the government has been busy chest-thumping on the phenomenal feet. Also, between January to March 2021, a continuous declaration by various government ministers and party spokespersons that victory against Covid was imminent sent a wrong message to the people against the prevalent risks and future possibilities. The Central government and various state governments relaxed Covid norms on public gatherings and almost no action was taken on those who flouted the rules. All this created a deceptive ambience of premature victory over Covid. This resulted in people becoming careless and a second wave became inevitable.  

Health Infrastructure and monitoring: Though it is wrong to blame the current ruptured health infrastructure on the incumbent Central government, a lot of the blame for oxygen mismanagement has to be shared by the Centre and state governments alike. The Centre through PM Cares fund allocated money for the installation of dedicated PSA medical oxygen generation plants but there was no monitoring after that. The state governments of various states were callous in their approach to oxygen management and woke up at the 11th hour when severe damage had already been done. Also, credible reports state that different state governments were not able to maintain the health infrastructure developed for combating the first wave till the time the second wave hit India. This led to a loss of the great groundwork done earlier in combating the first wave. This is a serious failure of governance that led to acute shortages of oxygen and ICU beds.

Not Curbing Covid Cases in Some States: Maharashtra and Kerala among other states have found it difficult to curb the number of Covid cases even when the number of cases was going down in the rest of India. Even though Kerala has a low mortality rate due to good health infrastructure, curbing cases has been a major issue. When the second wave started, both Maharashtra and Kerala were the first to get severely affected. Maharashtra had to impose restrictions on public movement as early as February end. There was an exponential rise in the number of cases. This sudden rise in cases was then reflected in other states like Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, and then the rest of India. No special consideration was made to curb cases in worst-affected states like Maharashtra and Kerala even when the first wave was dying off in the rest of the country. The consistently high numbers needed special attention and care to prevent future repercussions. The state governments and the Central government should have worked in tandem to control the situation.

Allowing Public Gatherings: Protest sites, religious ceremonies, election rallies, marriage functions, and all public gatherings should have been forcefully stopped once the number of cases started rising by March-end. The state governments are specifically to be blamed for this as they could have directly curbed the number of people in such gatherings. This is more so for the gatherings which were for non-commercial or non-essential services. If public gathering would have been only allowed in commercial public places like hotels, food courts, restaurants, and other similar places with strict implementation of Covid norms, things would have been different at many levels.

Loss of Fear among the citizens: Irrespective of the colossal governance failure in Covid mismanagement, one of the major reasons for the second wave was the utter carelessness on the part of the citizens. This led to an upsurge of cases in the country. It might be said that the carelessness of few led to the loss of thousands. One thing to note here is an inherent loss of fear against Covid in the society at large just before the second wave hit us.

THE WAY FORWARD

Vaccinate Fast and Remove Vaccination Hesitancy: With the plan for 216 crore vaccine doses in place till December 2021, it is crucial to focus on three issues: proper execution of vaccine allotment to states, reduction in vaccine wastage over time, and eliminate vaccine hesitancy among citizens. Vaccine wastage and vaccine hesitancy are interlinked and all necessary measures should be taken to eliminate vaccine hesitancy. Also, those spreading misinformation about vaccines should be booked under appropriate law. Also, states with high vaccine wastage should be highlighted and necessary actions should be taken against government officials responsible for it. Lastly, there has been controversy regarding states not getting their fair share of vaccines in the first phase of vaccination. The Central and state governments should resolve the issue and roll out an efficient robust vaccine allocation plan.

Work on War Footing to Curb cases: With the number of cases going down with each passing day, there is some respite for the fragile health ecosystem and various state governments. But the governments should ensure a rapid decline of the number of cases and work on war footings till the numbers reach a bare minimum. Even if one or two states continue to show high numbers then the Central government and the state government should take all possible measures to bring the cases to a minimum number.

Monitoring the Resources from PM Cares Fund:  The fund established with the primary objective of dealing with any kind of emergency or distress situation has ever since its inception has been in the spotlight. The fund till now has been utilised as:

In May 2020, PM Cares Fund allocated Rs 3100 crore to fight Covid in which Rs 2000 crore was allocated for ventilators, Rs 1000 crore for migrant workers and Rs 100 crore for vaccination

PM Cares Fund Trust allocated Rs 201.58 crore for the installation of 162 dedicated PSA medical oxygen generation plants in public health facilities in January 2021. 

The PM Cares fund contributed over Rs 2,200 crore for the first phase of the vaccination drive.

However, irrespective of the contribution of the PM Cares fund to the Covid relief cause, the main issue around the fund is monitoring the resources for which the funds are allocated. Be it the oxygen plants or the ventilators purchased, the opposition has raised questions about the resources for which the funds are allocated. The government needs to display through the existing portals the fund allocated and the resources purchased per state along with its execution or working status. Through this, a transparent system of fund allocation and monitoring can be ensured. It will also help in restoring the faith of the citizens and allow them to monitor the resources without falling prey to the blame game.

Proper Messaging to the Citizens: Even after vaccination it is necessary to maintain appropriate Covid behaviour to stop the spread of Covid cases. Though the vaccines have shown good numbers against hospitalisation, they do not guarantee against viral contamination. Also, the governments should avoid unnecessary public gatherings to prevent the sporadic surge of cases like in the second Covid wave. With the imminent danger of the third Covid wave and new diseases like black fungus and white fungus taking shape, it is important to communicate to the public about the future dangers and possibilities. Also, a clear message should be given to the citizens to be prepared for the battle against Coronavirus and its future strains for the coming year. Moreover, a lot of impetus needs to be again given to Covid appropriate behaviour just like the beginning of the first wave.       

The scavenging images of funeral pyres do not define our nation. The teary-eyed goodbyes though define our reality but it does not define our future. We have suffered enough in the second Covid wave. It is high time that we come together and fight this menace with coordination, discipline and mutual care. The Central government, the state government and the people should work in cohesion to ensure a brighter tomorrow. In this world of the internet, the different political parties need to understand that weaving narratives won’t save the day for them and it is only the work they do on the ground that will earn them the much-needed goodwill. It is the need of the hour to pull our socks, spring in our warrior spirit and stop the blame game to fight this!

This is the concluding part of the two-part series.

Sankalp Mishra is an engineer, lawyer, entrepreneur and an IIT-Kharagpur alumnus. The views expressed are personal.

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Innovation is spurred when there is a challenge: Vikram Khurana

In an exclusive conversation with NewsX for its special series NewsX India A-List, Vikram Khurana, Chairman of the Toronto Business Development Centre spoke about how they supported India’s fight with the Covid-19 pandemic, their Start-up Visa Programme and more.

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As India is fighting the biggest enemy the world has seen so far, the global community is doing its part vehemently. The Toronto Business Development Centre (TBDC) supported India’s fight with the Covid-19 pandemic by providing 5000 ventilators and other medical supplies. In an exclusive conversation with NewsX for its special series NewsX India A-List, Vikram Khurana, Chairman of the Toronto Business Development Centre spoke about their beneficial initiative and shared his insights with us.

Talking about the initiative, Khurana said, “These ventilators have been donated kindly by the province of Ontario and the province of Saskatchewan. The ventilators are made to survive on their own. The pandemic has highlighted the importance of global relations among the nations. The virus doesn’t recognise any borders; it is evident that it moves freely, in the air. We cannot build any borders around this pandemic unless we’re able to build walls in the air.”

He explained about the organisation that facilitated the supply of ventilators in collaboration with Air Canada. TBDC is the oldest business incubator in Canada that support entrepreneurs with all their needs. While talking about giving rise to 9 Unicorns, Khurana said, “Our current focus is on India. We think that there is a great amount of innovation and start-ups coming from India.”

He also threw light on their Start-up Visa Programme, which is extremely helpful for young and new entrepreneurs. Khurana continued, “While there is a great discussion on brain drain, there is not as much discussion on business expansion. Start-ups that grow internationally become multi-national. To facilitate this, Canada started the Start-up Visa in 2013. It essentially allows entrepreneurs to move with their families, be closer to their markets, and access technology and sources easily. Currently, about 2500 entrepreneurs from all over the world migrate to Canada under this program.”

“Innovation does not go to sleep, and innovation is spurred when there is a challenge,” he said when asked about some innovations he saw during the pandemic by Indians. Khurana pointed out that one of the most considerable collateral damage of Covid-19 has been on seniors citizens. Khurana applauded several start-ups helping to solve the problem faced by senior citizens and start-ups to find vaccine sites by diverting and balancing traffic among those vaccine sites. He mentioned the fact that most of the time, entrepreneurs executed these initiatives without concern of making money which is a very noble way of entrepreneurs giving back to society.

Khurana talked about the collaboration with Air Canada that made this initiative a success. “Many people of the crew were Indians living in Canada for a while and have roots in India like Captain Rash Pal who piloted the aircraft that carried those ventilators along with many other supplies with great pride. Every member of the team took great pride and went above and beyond to make this happen,” he said.

Talking about the world being caught flat-footed by the virus, Khurana said, “There are a lot of lessons learned on the fly”. He concluded the conversation by talking about having a front window view of great ideas coming from all around and the dominance of AI, data modelling, and machine learning in the area of innovation.

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Self-executing crypto contracts: The advent of smart law

Relying on a distributed consensus model, smart contracts have the DNA of blockchains and run on platforms similar to cryptocurrencies. These technology-enabled innovations in law are being watched closely as they make contracts more reliable, simultaneously making it difficult to evade execution.

Brijesh Singh and Khushbu Jain

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Smart contracts enable the execution of trustworthy transactions and agreements between anonymous parties and without the need for a legal system. Smart Contracts will bring in changes, not as fast as some predict, but will surely change the way we are used to working, as per Kai Schiller, author of the German blog blockchainwelt.de.

You would have heard of blockchains. In our last two articles, we spoke about Non-fungible Tokens and Ransomware attacks, this one is the third in the series concerning blockchains. Apart from cryptocurrencies and NFTs, there is a much more serious and beneficial application of this technology, namely smart contracts.

SMART CONTRACTS VS (TRADITIONAL) CONTRACTS

We are aware as to what entails a traditional legal contract — a document that details an agreement that parties execute with an expectation of being legally binding with a structure that includes offer, acceptance, consideration, and date with the parties signature. The endgame is Judicial Enforcement. Whereas, smart contracts bypass and ignore the legal mode and judicial enforcement is not their endgame. In contrast, smart contracts are computer programs filled with clauses “if/then” laying out every eventuality and obligation. These computer programs, once created and formally accepted by both parties, can be self-enforcing, running in the cloud. Continuous monitoring of key performance metrics determines when one of the “if/then” clauses suddenly switches from false to true, triggering automatic enforcement. Through auto-enforcement, smart contracts can add efficiencies for many kinds of agreements. This includes rental, intellectual property, financing, shipping, and manufacturing contracts.

First proposed in the 1990s by Nick Szabo, the concept of smart contract entails contract clauses written in computer programs. These are to be automatically executed as and when predefined conditions are met. Smart contracts are stored, replicated, and updated in distributed blockchains with logic consisting of transaction status. The integration of blockchain technology with smart contracts has made the dream of a “peer-to-peer market” come true.

LEGAL STATUS

For an enforceable legally binding contract, the common law requires four elements to be present: (a) offer; (b) acceptance; (c) consideration and (d) intentions to create legal relations. The law takes a wider approach and will enforce any promise in whatever form it is in, if the above criteria are met and if there are no vitiating factors such as misrepresentation or duress to taint the contract. Practically a contract concludes upon the agreement of a future contractual performance, which then generates rights and obligations for all parties.

The lingering question of whether smart contracts carry the same legal validity as traditional contracts warrant a definitive and authoritative answer, instead, it instigated a never-ending debate amongst academics and practitioners.

TECH, FUNCTIONALITY

Imagine a self-executing contract that digitally enforces, verifies, and facilitates the performance or negotiation of a contract. Blockchain technology and its distributed nature are used to foster transaction credibility between contracting parties without the necessity of third parties as exhibited in regular contracts.

There are several steps involved in a blockchain-based smart beginning with agreement identification, defining setting conditions, scripting the business logic, encryption with blockchain, execution and processing on event triggers, and finally updating the network status.

Thus contractual performance obligations are memorialised in code using a strict and formal programming language, then they are executed by members of a blockchain-based network. Once a smart contract is triggered via a transaction by one of the parties, the smart contract itself acts as the parties’ agent that is deputised to assist the parties with their arrangement.

The code of the smart contract is stored on each miner’s computer and each smart contract is assigned a blockchain-based address. Parties can initiate a smart contract by sending digitally signed “transactions” to the smart contract’s address. The transactional record is stored on the blockchain, the saved record then triggers the smart contract’s execution. Owing to the consensus-based distributed architecture the smart contract’s code is run by all miners supporting the network simultaneously. The transaction in this case is a record that includes the variables necessary for the code to run, along with a digital signature of the sending party.

ERROR IN CODE — RISK EXPOSURE:

Smart contracts also suffer from material shortcomings. Any vulnerability or even an error in the code may bring consequences. And one such example is when the DAO raised more than $150 million, an individual discovered a loophole in the code and diverted almost $70 million worth of ether and it was observed that the hacker did not maliciously hack the code, but rather used the terms of the existing smart contracts to accomplish something others later found objectionable, i.e. the diversion of their money. Thus, it is evident that the systemic risks exposed by the DAO hack have fuelled the argument that raises several concerns about the functionality of smart contracts. Broadly speaking — the hack reveals that the foundational characteristics which make smart contracts attractive ought to be questioned.

RELATION WITH CRYPTOCURRENCY

Centralised form of transactions may have a single point of failure that has been solved by using blockchain technology, which provides a peer-to-peer transaction without the need of a third party. The Bitcoin decentralised cryptocurrency, released in 2009, has generated great interest in blockchain technology applications. The blockchain technology that used to be applied only for bitcoin peer-to-peer transactions has been also usable for other purposes, such as smart contracts.

In the last few years, there has been significant development in technology related to blockchain-based smart contracts that have been accumulating over the years. It ranges from various platforms that facilitate blockchain-based smart contracts, applications that utilise smart contracts and tools in developing blockchain-based smart contract applications.

While a cryptocurrency is used as a secure medium of exchange due to the use of strong cryptography for ensuring verifiability of asset transfer, control of unit creation and even evasion of regulations as well as oversight by governments across the world, smart contracts are self-executing contracts that utilise blockchain technology to digitally enforce, verify, or facilitate the performance or negotiation of a contract.

COSTS AND ADVANTAGES

Smart contracts provides for many benefits as compared to the traditional contracts: (a) Speed as smart contracts use software code that automates tasks that are typically accomplished manually; (b) Enhanced Accuracy as due to automated transactions the probability of manual error is reduced; (c) Cost-Effective as less human intervention, fewer intermediaries and thus less cost: (d)Auto-enforcement as Smart contracts are unique in their enforceability since these clauses are embedded in the applicable software itself; (e) Reducing risks. Smart contracts cannot be arbitrarily altered once they are issued due to the immutability of blockchains. All the transactions stored and replicated are traceable and auditable.

Despite the advantages mentioned hereinabove, the enforceability of more subjective obligations such as ensuring commercially reasonable efforts is affected by the inherently digital nature of smart contracts.  

SMART CONTRACT AND ONLINE DISPUTE RESOLUTION

The dispute arising out of smart contract demand for non-judicial remedy systems that are cross-jurisdictional, extra-legal, and efficient hence the smart Developers and Entrepreneurs are swiftly moving to create solutions for resolving smart contract disputes and accordingly reliance over online dispute resolution systems in the blockchain. Generally, Online Dispute Resolution models have been online arbitration, AI-powered resolutions, and crowd-sourced dispute resolution. It is no surprise, especially given this history of resorting to extra-legal resolutions, that developers have turned to online arbitration for resolving blockchain disputes. 

Relying on a distributed consensus model, smart contracts have the DNA of Blockchains and run on platforms similar to cryptocurrencies. These technology-enabled innovations in law are being watched closely as they make contracts more reliable simultaneously making it difficult to evade execution.

The ‘autonomous’ nature of these contracts does not require a third party to evaluate execution and even obviates the need to engage lawyers and experts to estimate execution in a granular fashion.

Despite obvious advantages, blockchain-based technologies have not shown great success as a business model. There are serious concerns about the non-green nature of computing needed to run the blockchains and some security issues which have cropped up despite the self-healing nature of blockchain nodes.

Ethereum has been an excellent example of a platform based on blockchains for smart contracts and the evolution of standards as well as tools for developing applications and utilities will pave the way for wider acceptance of these innovations. On the whole, the world is watching these innovations with caution filled with expectations.

Brijesh Singh, IPS, is an author and IG Maharashtra. Khushbu Jain is an advocate practising before the Supreme Court and a founding partner of law firm Ark Legal. They can be contacted on Twitter: @brijeshbsingh and @advocatekhushbu. The views expressed are personal.

Ethereum has been an excellent example of a platform based on blockchains for smart contracts and the evolution of standards as well as tools for developing applications and utilities will pave the way for wider acceptance of these innovations.

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We take pride in trying our best to save lives: Marina Shaikh & Nandini Singh Jhabua

Marina Shaikh and Nandini Singh Jhabua from The Rising World Foundation recently joined NewsX on its special series NewsX India A-List to share how they helped thousands of people across India during the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.

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The Rising World Foundation (RWF) is a not-for-profit charitable organisation dedicated to relieving the impact of Covid-19 on India’s most vulnerable communities. Marina Shaikh, Founder of The Rising World Foundation, and Nandini Singh Jhabua, Communications Director of The Rising World Foundation recently joined NewsX for its special series NewsX India A-List to speak on how they helped thousands of people across India during the second wave of the pandemic.

Marina, an experienced social organiser and philanthropist with international experience began the conversation and said, “I was in Brussels since 2017 when I found this organisation and it was my work with the international development committee in the European Parliament that gave me much understanding of what kind of work I wanted to do basically. I did a lot of public service projects and worked a lot with the international government. But I also realised that I wanted to come back and serve the people of my own country and hence The Rising World Foundation was formed.”

Nandini threw light on their collaboration and said, “Marina and I belong to Madhya Pradesh, our families are two generation’s friends and we grew up together. We both always liked community service as children. I remember we used to always plan that we’re going to do something and serve a community in a way that we wanted to, especially to the needy, to the marginalised community.”

Through her work with Marina and the RWF, Nandini hopes to combine her two greatest passions: her family’s connection to tribal art forms and giving back to the community. Talking about how the foundation operated and helped the community at large, Marina said, “The rural is our target. Rural communities in Madhya Pradesh is what we have been targeting and recently we have started with a fundraiser for oxygen supplies in Madhya Pradesh.”

“We have been working on that lately, as we got a lot of calls from a lot of villages that we have been working in for the past whole year. We started a fundraiser with Milaap. We hope a lot more people can contribute to this cause and you know help the state,” she added.

Elaborating on the working of RWF, Nandini said, “We have been working for the past year and a half ever since Marina started the NGO in 2015. The pandemic hit us and at that time we weren’t sure how would we start, we were immediately started relief works. Between Marina and I, we covered five different states along with Madhya Pradesh.”

“It was amazing the kind of work we have done along with drives including the educational, agricultural drives and breast cancer awareness drive. It was really nice that we were able to reach out to almost over 1 lakh people with information, mask sanitisers, hygiene kits, so I think we have made a tremendous difference in these five states,” she added.

Marina told us about her on-ground experiences during the devastating second wave of the Covid pandemic, “It’s extremely intimidating going to hospitals and distributing to their families, food and hygiene kits for women. It’s been very intimidating with whole new black fungus. I mean I’m glad that we’re doing whatever we can and yeah it’s very tough for us. We are trying our best to save lives and I take pride and say it’s alright to just go out. Somebody has to do it.”

Talking about their ongoing fundraiser, Marina said, “We have people who supported us from across the world. We have received about 20 lakhs and our target was 30 lakhs. We have already donated 26 oxygen concentrators to various districts in Madhya Pradesh.”

On a concluding note, Nandini mentioned how one can reach out and support the ongoing cause of RWF, “They can DM us and follow The Rising World Foundation. We hope every individual put the tools they need to thrive. The sky is vast the opportunities are limitless. Come out and support us to help us in every way to save lives, as many as we can.”

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A FATHER’S LOVE IS LIKE AN UNENDING TRIP OF JOY AND HAPPINESS

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Whenever we talk about God, One word that always resonates with it is father. Whether it’s our dad, brother, son, or any other father figure, these men need to know what a huge difference their presence makes in society.

Many of us are lucky to have our dad by our side. But for others who lost their fathers, this day is a painful reminder that their dad is no longer around. I hope they’re able to find peace during these testing times and if it makes any better, your dad will always be watching over you from the sky to keep you warm and protected.

Several atrocities came in where others left me midway. But it is my father who has always grabbed my hand and tirelessly crossed the other side with me. In every sphere of my life, I wouldn’t have become self-reliant without his blessings and constant support. His never forgetting life lesson made me who I am today. 

Here’s a part of him left in his diary, which I discovered on his bookshelf after he passed away. Unfortunately, the diary pages were left blank. That made me a bit curious. Why didn’t he write anything? By the time I flipped to the last page, I got to know what he wanted me to become. There was a crumpled piece of paper on the last page. Therein, it was written, “I know you would search for it someday. I just want to tell you one thing that you were born to rule the world and I can’t wait to see you conquer everything you touch upon from up here. I love you to the core, my strongest child.” – Your One and only Daddy

Losing a father is devastating. So, grieve as much as you want and cry and sulk but then think about your father’s hopes and dreams about you, he’d never want to see his little child so distressed. So collect the broken pieces of your heart and stand tall for him. You will discover this new strength that resides in you. Sharing photos and memories, and taking part in meaningful activities centred around your father’s life and tradition, will make this a more meaningful day for you.

And for the lucky ones who have the angels called dad around, here’s what can you do to make his day memorable: 

SPEND TIME WITH HIM 

Make his presence felt. You would certainly not like to see him neglected on this occasion. Spend little time with your dad on Father’s Day thanking God for the blessing of their presence; pray for their strength and guidance.

GATHER AROUND WITH FAMILY

A father loves to see all his family together. Make sure to plan a get-together on this occasion so that your father enjoys quality time with the family. Plan for a retro event along with homemade food that he loves so that he feels overjoyed and special. 

REMEMBRANCE

One of the most important things is to remember him forever. Not to forget that he made you feel jubilant whenever you felt gloomy. It is rightly said, “Encourage one another and build each other up.” And Father’s Day is a chance for us to make that happen. 

Lift their spirits, celebrate their joyous moments, and remind them how much they’re appreciated every single day. Remember his life mantra, do not exaggerate things, and always show your affection. 

Though it can be difficult — especially if your loss is sudden or recent — remembering dad openly and together will help your appreciation for your father grow. And you will be comforted as you hear the things that others remember most about your dad — stories you’ve never heard before or forgotten.

On this Father’s day where the world is a bit helter-skelter due to Covid-19, spend some quality time with your father. As you never know what would happen in the future. Cherish these moments because these moments would last forever in your memories. No matter how you reach out, your encouragement is sure to make this Father’s Day one they’ll always remember.

The writer is president, Purush Aayog.

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Genome surveillance for pandemic disaster preparedness

Covid-19 has ushered in a new digital era and is rewiring the world’s perspective to genomic science and sensibilities to personal data privacy in public health management.

Suravi Sharma Kumar

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Besides uncovering the gaps in healthcare infrastructure, the pandemic has thrown up the lack of a data-driven ecosystem and culture in the country at various levels of the healthcare system. In today’s world, as much we appreciate the potential of genome science, we need to know that it’s a resource-intensive work around quality data (input, storage, and analysis). Over the last few decades, the strong ties between DNA and Computer Science have revolutionised genomics technologies. At this juncture, about Covid genome sequencing we must know that we are now in an era of rapid (and cheaper) sequencing. But today the ability to determine DNA sequences is starting to outrun the ability of researchers to store, disseminate, and analyse data. Genome studies need pre and post-sequencing data management to make sense of the genome mapping and work towards the epidemiological goals. Genomic surveillance is the best we can do to track the virus and prepare public health defence measures against it. The importance of this aspect of pandemic management can be ignored only to our detriment in the face of the third wave/ future waves. 

Data generated from whole-genome sequencing is huge (in terabytes) and demands computational capabilities to manage it. Analysed genomic information requires to be combined with clinical/ epidemiological inputs that in turn can yield insights on the virus that can be used in public health interventions. The sequencing process needs a high level of laboratory infrastructure that is expensive. As India had spent very little per capita on healthcare before the pandemic, there is a lot needing investment/funding for the India genome project. The funding/investment, I believe should be through public and private involvement considering the immense capability of the Indian private sector in Genome Informatics when pitted against the public sector.

The convergence of biology and computing is necessary for this relatively obscure technology. Essentially a biologist and a programmer should work closely to facilitate the development of tools and systems that can solve a biological question. Many public health laboratories may not have the right bioinformatics capability (Kelly F. Oakes on Comments to Author, 2017) and data management resources for large scale public health projects. Also, Database management and big data analytical capabilities may not be in alignment with some of the public sector institutes’ objectives which are mostly around teaching and human resource capacity building in Biotechnology and microbial research. 

As we know detecting mutations/variations can identify the cause of outbreaks: the virus behaviour — the fast-spreading or the immune escaping variants — guide public health policies, and even find a drug/cure or inform vaccine researchers. To detect genome variations, millions or billions of data points have to be analysed through computational techniques — pattern analysing algorithms, mathematical models, image processing and so on. 

Apart from the public sector regional labs identified by the Genetic Consortium, there are Indian genomics companies in the private sector that have world-class capabilities. And apart from these, the IT giants of India, have one or two genomics labs each, and with state-of-the-art infrastructure handling liquid biopsies and doing work mostly in NGS (Next-generation Sequencing). These genome science labs of IT corporate houses are adept at preparing data files and computational techniques besides performing the steps of gene/ whole-genome sequencing. I believe, these capabilities in India’s IT sector can contribute to the country’s Covid scene by directly contributing to laboratory research work for its R&D experience in the field. This I believe will enable the delivery of standardised genomic data meeting international quality requirements; thereby catching up with the required GISAID or GenBank data contribution requirement for the country. 

In a well-designed PPP (Public-Private-Partnership) model, these Genomic labs in the private/corporate sector will be able to provide not only the required lab infrastructure for genome sequencing (or mapping) but also the much-required strong digital capabilities to complement the process and thereby support NCDC (National Centre for Disease Control). Authorities should find ways to incorporate these labs with high infrastructure that are not licensed for clinical use but have been contributing to high-level research work in tandem with renowned cancer hospitals and oncologists for their skill and include them in the genome surveillance efforts for the greater public good. The Bioinformatics capability of the Indian IT sector will be able to transform the genomic surveillance scenario of the country, thereby helping in pandemic preparedness.

As we know, by now India should have sequenced more than five million samples to have a good understanding of the virus and its strains, but so far 11,047 sequences have been performed (of the 1.4 million samples sequenced worldwide) according to GISAID. Currently, less than 0.05% of positive cases in India are subjected to such mapping while the recommended number is 5% of all samples. On the other hand, few countries (like the UK, the US, Belgium) have been doing whole genomic sequencing in real-time to inform/update the public health response system.

Unavailability of metadata along with Covid samples sent for genome evaluation is another concern which I believe is for data privacy or ethics issues. The authorities should address this the soonest and enable the collection of complete relevant epidemiological data (demographic, clinical and laboratory) through public health workers in the right format, and share it — anonymised or as-is with patient consent with the laboratories where the samples are sent for analysis. At this point, we must also remember that life sciences or healthcare data are always un-structured unlike other branches of science, and data scientists often find biological data technically trickier to organise. Readying the data for research use itself may be a struggle and may necessitate the use of high-end techniques like natural language processing.

The Covid-19 pandemic has ushered in a new digital era and is rewiring the world’s perspective to genomic science and sensibilities to personal data privacy in public health management. Governments around the globe are imposing new digital surveillance tools to track and monitor individuals for the new norms of Covid etiquettes as well as the morphology of the virus for variations to bolster defences against the novel virus. 

The writer is a medical doctor (pathologist) and holds an MA in Creative Writing from the University of London. The views expressed are personal.

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WE ARE FOCUSED ON HELPING THE HELPLESS AND FEEDING THE NEEDY: ARIDAMAN RATHORE & AANJNEYA SINGH

Aridaman Singh Rathore, Founder, Act Jaipur and Aanjneya Singh, Member, Act Jaipur joined NewsX’s special series, NewsX India A-list and spoke about how social media became a valuable tool in making their aim a fortunate reality.

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Covid-19 was an unprecedented disaster that wreaked havoc on the world and is still at its prime momentum. Humanity is being tested daily, and some warriors are holding up its sanctity with valour and pride. NewsX’s special series, NewsX India A-list, aims at acknowledging such warriors. Aridaman Singh Rathore, Founder, Act Jaipur and Aanjneya Singh, Member, Act Jaipur, participated in the special series for their excellence in social work.

Introducing the concept behind this initiative and how it all came together, Aridaman said, “It was nothing but friend and family coming together to do their bit.” Driven by the feeling of helplessness and witnessing the Covid-19 pandemic exploding onto our country, he added, “We are focused on helping the helpless and feeding the needy. Even people with a good job profile who got laid off are suffering, and we came to their aid as well.”

Aanjneya Singh, who has been working in New York for six years, came to India for holidays and couldn’t go back due to the lockdown restrictions. Explaining how he came to be a part of this noble initiative, he said, “Actions speak louder than words. We had the resources and the network, so helping people in need was our responsibility.” Aanjneya also mentioned how donations from across Europe and New York, through his contacts, have been beneficial in propelling social aid.

Both the individuals spoke about how social media became a valuable tool in making their aim a fortunate reality. Aridaman connected with his cousins and friends over a WhatsApp group and started their page on Instagram. Social Media proved to be immensely helpful in propagating the idea further.

Throwing light on the reach and expansion of ‘Act’, Aridaman said, “Our initial goal was distributing 10,000 food packets. Today, we have distributed 23,791 meals, and are projecting close to 50,000 packets by mid-June.” Reiterating the importance of social media in times of the pandemic, Aridaman talked about the ease with which people with similar aim and equal drive connected with Act on Instagram. The platforms also facilitated their networking with several NGOs. One such NGO is ‘Raksha’. In collaboration with Raksha, Act Jaipur also fed stray animals and has expanded to distributing dry ration in slums.

“We wanted people to act out. We had had enough of just talking, it’s time to act now. We wanted people to realise the power of Social Media and reach out to the needy in such trying times,” said Aridaman while enlightening about the name of their initiative. He said that they want to do as much as they can in their limited capacity and are unwilling to stop until they achieve it. Aanjneya echoed Aridaman’s thought and said, “Doing something is always more beneficial than just speaking up.”

Humanity is facing a crisis, and initiatives like Act Jaipur gives people hope and a dose of positivity which is the need of the hour (after a dose of the vaccine). Ending the interview on a hopeful note, Aridaman said, “No amount is less, and no effort is lost.”

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