There is a buzz that the Prime Minister could reshuffle his cabinet in June, most probably once Covid’s second surge has abated. Amongst party circles and RSS corridors, there is a feeling that the Modi cabinet needs a facelift. It has been found wanting in the face of recent challenges. Moreover, the reshuffle is long overdue.
Waiting in the wings rather conspicuously is Jyotiraditya Scindia. Will he get a cabinet berth that is rumoured to have been promised to him for crossing over? Certainly, Scindia would add to the bench strength of the government. Will he get an economic portfolio or one with more heft such as the HRD one? (There is speculation that the current HRD minister could be shifted out, however, his strongest backer remains a Hindutva icon, outside the party.)
After Hemanta Biswa Sarma’s elevation as Chief Minister, there is some hope in the Scindia camp that his Congress baggage won’t drag him down. But, at the end of the day, Sarma too had to wait for his dues, despite his high performance ratings. An offshoot of Assam polls could also see ex-CM Sarbanda Sonowal getting into the Cabinet. Regardless, he is tipped for a Rajya Sabha seat.
However, what is of concern during Covid times is the health portfolio. There is a buzz that Dr Devi Shetty would be given the health portfolio. Chairman and founder of Narayana Health, Dr Shetty has been a visible face on television and Twitter, defending the Central government and the Prime Minister against critics. He is currently a part of the Karnataka government’s Covid Task Force. Whether the PM brings in Shetty or someone else, there is an argument in favour of giving this crucial ministry to a professional with credibility instead of a politician. The current minister, despite being a doctor himself, is not able to deliver the right optics.
Initially during the first phase of Covid, Dr Harsh Vardhan (Cabinet minister, Health) kept a low profile with the health secretary holding the daily briefings. However of late, it is Harsh Vardhan who has been in the limelight and despite his medical credentials, he has not been able to enthuse the right confidence. Rather, it is the understated but reassuring AIIMS director Dr Randeep Guleiria who has emerged as the sane voice from the government’s side.
Will Bhupendra Yadav be included? He is certainly one of the most hands-on general secretaries in the current set up, working quietly behind the scenes during key state elections. The key question remains as to whether the party can spare him. Another former Chief Minister whose name is doing the rounds is Devendra Fadnavis, who is said to be in the PM’s good books, but not the Home Minister’s. Fadnavis was given charge of the Bihar polls, along with the state in charge Bhupendra Yadav last year. However, before the campaign ended, Fadnavis was down with Covid and had to self-isolate.
Other names doing the rounds is Sushil Modi, who has been sidelined from the state polls due to his proximity to JD(U) leader Nitish Kumar. But again, he has a tenuous equation with the other more powerful Modi, making his entry not quite a sure thing.
There is also a feeling that the government is losing the communication war. Will that lead to a change in the I&B minister with a more “forceful” personality replacing the genial Prakash Javdekar? Railways Minister Piyush Goyal seems to have retrieved some of his lost ground with his Oxygen Express trains, which have certainly fared better than the special trains to ferry migrant workers back to their homes during the first wave.
Another quiet performer has been Hardeep Singh Puri, both on the civil aviation front with his Vande Bharat flights and also his handling of that hot potato, the Central Vista Project. It has taken all of Puri’s articulation and diplomatic skills to handle the barrage of criticism on the project.
Another question being asked is about the role of Nitin Gadkari. Known to be one of the performers of the earlier Modi government, his role has been cut down considerably during the PM’s second term. Will he be given a chance to emerge from the sidelines once again?
After the SAD’s exit from the government, and Ram Vilas Paswan›s demise, there is no ally at the cabinet level within the government. Expect the JD(U) and Chirag Paswan to be offered a seat at the table. Both within the RSS and the BJP, the consensus seems to be that if there is one thing that the Prime Minister needs to do, it is to give an urgent and much needed facelift to his current team. But in order to get a credible team in place, the PM may need to give more heft to expertise and experience instead of loyalty when he does reshuffle his pack.
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The hunger and nutrition crisis: The dark side of Covid pandemic
Coronavirus has presented itself as a challenge and an opportunity to address our
long-standing problems of food security and nutrition. The current need is to come up with
sustainable solutions to lift millions of people out of the vicious cycle of hunger and poverty.
C ovid-19 has transformed into a silent pandemic of hunger and starvation as a result of millions of people pushed into the vicious cycles of economic stagnation, loss of livelihood and worsening food insecurity. The World Bank has estimated that 71 million people will be pushed into extreme poverty across the globe as a result of the pandemic. As per the State of Working India 2021 report by the Azim Premji University, about 100 million lost jobs during the nationwide April-May 2020 lockdown. Most were back at work by June 2020, but even by the end of 2020, about 15 million workers remained out of work. Incomes also remained depressed. As we saw the deadly second wave of Covid-19 ravaging our country and leaving families devastated, the oxygen crisis overwhelmed the entire system while the crisis of hunger and starvation kept becoming grave each day. The CMIE Unemployment Data reveals a grim picture of unemployment spiralling to 12% by the end of May 2021 as compared to 8% in April 2021. Breaking this down further over 10 million or 1 crore people lost their jobs because of the second wave of coronavirus alone and 97% of households’ incomes have declined since the beginning of the pandemic last year. In a country like ours where a majority of the workforce is in the informal sector, people have not only been massively affected by the pandemic due to loss of jobs but also because they have no access to the benefits that come with formal employment and are out of the ambit of the social security schemes. The daily wagers, construction workers, street vendors, domestic helpers are the people who have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic and lockdowns and are living a life of uncertainty and disrupted incomes. Agriculture is the primary occupation in the villages but due to frequent lockdowns, there has been a disruption of the supply chains and access to the market for the sale of agricultural produce impacting the income of the rural households. World Food Programme estimates that an additional 130 million people could fall into the category of being food insecure over and above the 820 million who were so classified by the State of Food Insecurity in the World Report, 2019. In the 2020 Global Hunger Index, India ranks 94th out of the 107 countries. The pandemic has worsened this hunger crisis in India. With higher food inflation combined with reduced incomes, more and more households have to cut down on the quantity and quality of their food consumption. The impact is the worst on the low and middleincome household spend a large share of their incomes on food expenditure. The First Phase of the National Family Health Survey (2019-2020) has revealed alarming findings, with as many as 16 states showing an increase in underweight and severely wasted children under the age of 5. Ever since the advent of Covid-19, the pandemic has risked becoming nutrition crisis, due to overburdened healthcare systems, disrupted food patterns and income loss. And the disruption of programmes likes the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) and the mid-day meal programme. The current crisis highlights the importance of the existing welfare schemes like MGNREGA, PDS, and PMGKY etc which put cash and relief directly into the hands of the most vulnerable people and help them tide over the economic distress. There is an imperative need to improve food security by increasing local food production and strengthening food supply chains. The availability of high food stocks presents a bright opportunity to ensure the strongly advocated universal PDS which is the need of the hour. As the second wave has led to many young people who were the breadwinners of their families succumbing to the virus, it is of utmost importance that support is provided to these families with adequate cash and food support and building employment opportunities to prevent them from slipping further below the poverty line. Like the first wave, it has been the collective endeavour of several citizen initiatives and NGOs to complement the efforts of the administration to mitigate the hardships and provide immediate relief to the most marginalised communities who have been the worst affected by the pandemic. At Samarpann, we are focusing all our resources on the rural areas keeping in view this alarming crisis. Until now we have distributed 2.6 million meals across India since the advent of the Pandemic. When our team visited the villages in Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, Kashmir, and Mizoram we realised that nothing had changed for these families in the second wave as compared to the second wave. The second wave has worsened the conditions for most of these households as there has been a loss of livelihoods and depletion of savings due to medical expenses. The people have either not been reinstated into their jobs after the first lockdown or have suffered major pay cuts leading to reduced incomes. Though we provide immediate relief in the form of ration and sanitation kits, it is important to start rebuilding the lives of these families, especially those who have lost their earning members. Hence, we are purchasing the relief material from the women Self Help Groups (SHGs) so that it increases their income sources and providie the material in the community itself. We believe that the solution to the hunger crisis should follow a twofold approach of addressing food insecurity as well as providing livelihood opportunities to the people whose voices have largely been left unheard in this second wave of Covid-19. Each ration kit includes wheat flour, rice, two types of pulses, sugar, cooking oil, spices, and salt which is sufficient to take care of a family’s need for 15 to 20 days. There is also a sanitation kit that has soaps, sanitisers, and a packet of masks. Some of the villages which we are targeting are Rathkankara, Borabas, Kolipura, Girdharpura, and Bhairopura in the Kota district in Rajasthan which is mostly inhabited by the indigenous communities of tribal. In Kashmir, with our partner organisation, we are targeting villages in Anantnag, Baramulla, Pulwama, Bandipora, and Kulgam while in Uttarakhand the target areas are the women in the Khatima block of Udham Singh Nagar, who are single earning members coming from very poor families. Mizoram hosts its own problems, being tribal predominated and situated in the arduous terrains. Covid-19 pandemic has presented itself as a challenge and an opportunity to address our long-standing problems of food security and nutrition and the current need is to come up with sustainable solutions which help us tide not only over the current crisis but also lift millions of people out of the vicious cycle of hunger and poverty. ‘One Nation, One Card’ across the country is a long term solution aimed at bringing a large number of excluded households into the ambit of social security. Similarly, diversification of the food basket under PDS and ICDS would go a long way in addressing malnutrition and reducing the disease burden in the country. The task at hand is a humongous one that needs to be dealt with at multiple levels by various stakeholders coming together to minimise the adversities and develop long term strategies for addressing hunger and malnutrition. Dr Ruma Bhargava, Lead Healthcare, World Economic Forum and Founder, Samarpann & Dr Megha Bhargava, Deputy Commissioner Income Tax, Govt of India.
The views expressed are personal
Reflecting on refugee pasts and possible future
India has had a stellar history in welcoming refugees and sheltering them. Independent India saw us handling an unprecedented refugee crisis of 1947. In fact, as a child of 1947 refugees, I can’t but applaud that part of our nation-building history. India had hosted Tibetan refugees from the 1960s and in the 1970s we welcomed refugees from western Africa, later from Afghanistan and then from Sri Lanka. Most recently, we are hosting Rohingya refugees from Myanmar emerging from the persecution against their community from May 2015 and refugees fleeing from the February 2021 crisis in Myanmar.
India’s example holds true for much of the global south. As UNHCR data notes, more than 86% of refugees were hosted by developing countries, with more than 73% by the neighbouring countries. In general, societies in the south have welcomed refugees as equal members of society. Countries of the North on the other hand have never embraced refugees in the same spirit of solidarity and responsibility, though it can be argued they carry much of the responsibility of the global refugee crisis. They need to be called out for that.
ActionAid Association has been at the forefront of responding to the emergency needs of forcibly displaced communities for over four decades now. ActionAid Association prioritises the needs of women and children and builds the resilience of marginalised populations. We have supported displaced minorities from Pakistan, living in Rajasthan, and internally displaced persons from Chhattisgarh settled in Andhra Pradesh. In partnership with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees India, we continue to extend support to people from the Rohingya community settled in parts of Uttar Pradesh and Haryana. Working in collaboration with social organisations, we have been offering humanitarian assistance to refugees from strife-ridden Myanmar too.
We need to recognise that in this century there has been a reversal in the perception of refugees. World Refugee Council calls it “a shortfall of humanity and empathy”. With growing xenophobic tendencies, stronger border controls, the rise of nativistic “sons of the soil” movements, as well as rising economic inequities which stoke fears of “risk from refugees”, host communities have become insecure and elected governments voice these insecurities, without resolving them; this comes at a time when the need is for addressing the refugee crisis in the framework of leaving no one behind.
With some exceptions, in general, there is a fast-growing antipathy towards refugees. The conscience of the world was struck by the tragic visuals of drowning refugees trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea and of Rohingyas and other Myanmarese ethnic groups fleeing atrocities but governments have not been so easily moved. Rescuing drowning migrants became a crime in Italy; sheltering refugees from Myanmar a matter of political debate. Spectres of “dangers and threats” posed by refugees basis race, religion and economic competition that is propelled by fundamentalist actions of vested interest groups from both refugee and host communities groups, are raised to stoke xenophobia.
Let’s understand that refugees or for that matter any other groups, could become a threat to national sovereignty, only when the state has retreated from its welfare and caring orientation. To any government whose main focus is the increased physical, social, economic, and mental well-being of its people, care for people seeking refuge poses no threat. This has been demonstrated in ample measure by our collective past of accepting and integrating refugees.
Refugees need safety during travel when fleeing oppression, hunger or fear. They need safety, social protection, and care in the spaces they flee to without discrimination, and a right to return to their native lands, should they so desire. Their children need access to continued education, and families need non-discriminatory access to healthcare, education, and all public services. Women need protection against violence and discrimination. Enabling conditions to earn livelihoods are critical, even when there is no right to employment; else how can their families survive.
The lesson for us is not to mirror the countries that have regressive colonial attitudes to refugees and migrants. India should remain true to its warm non-discriminatory history of welcoming refugees. To the global community, that would be a message and an action demonstrating principled leadership —one that is morally, socially, politically and strategically defensible, and inspirational for others to follow.
Let us, however, remember that stellar pasts don’t automatically lead to glorious futures. Futures need active construction with humane people-centred politics and policies, set in a frame of a caring welfare state. Existing treaties and protocols need to be signed up to and newer societal imageries of futures based on solidarities, co-existence, and commons of humankind are needed, as are sensitive refugee policies and actions.
Sandeep Chachra is Executive Director of ActionAid Association and Joseph Mathai is Senior Manager – Communications of ActionAid Association. The views expressed are personal.
SVSU ORGANISES INTERNATIONAL WEBINAR ON ‘VACCINE PATENT WAIVER’
Department of Students’ Welfare, Shri Vishwakarma Skill University, organized an International webinar on Vaccine Patent Waiver, ‘A Step Towards Covid-Free Equal World’. A galaxy of prominent speakers was invited to share their views with the participants. The program started with the address of Prof. B.K. Kuthiala, Chairperson, Haryana State Higher Education Council. He averred India is the biggest storehouse of knowledge and scientific innovations. Shri Raj Nehru, VC, SVSU said that the display of apathy on the part of large organizations has been disturbing as how can one think of only profit-making even in these dire times of catastrophe the entire world is going through. Dr. Prabhash Ranjan, Law Faculty, South Asian University, India joined as an eminent speaker and put forth his views on IPR & Vaccine Patent Waiver. Prof. Gul Erkol Bayram, Sinop University, Turkey shared her views on Patent Free vaccines and their impact on Global Tourism. Prof. Justin Paul, from the University of Florida, United States of America, spoke about the idea that nations need to explore diplomatic routes to get vaccines and make the same available to the masses.
Moreover, the other eminent speakers who addressed the participants on a range of crucial topics were Prof. B. P. Sharma, Vice-Chancellor, G.B. University, Dr. Mahadeo Jaiswal, Director, IIM-Sambalpur, Vijay Pal Dalmia, IPR & Partner, V.A.A, and Dr. Raj Shankar Ghosh, Senior Advisor, Vaccine Delivery, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Their discourse included the issues regarding research and the role of industry, national and international legal aspects, and processes in the patent waiver, and the delivery of vaccines etc.
Walk-in vaccination to begin in Gujarat for 18-44 age group from today
To ensure that the maximum number of citizens is vaccinated in the state, a statewide vaccination campaign, in Gujarat, will begin from Monday. Announcing this, Chief Minister Vijay Rupani said that the Vaccination Campaign has been organised to make everyone aware of the importance of vaccination. The vaccination fest will be observed on Monday at 9.00 am in the presence of ministers, leaders, dignitaries at 1025 vaccination centers in 33 districts and 8 municipal areas. Chief Minister Vijay Rupani will be present at the Primary Health Center, Sector-8, Gandhinagar.
CM Rupani has thanked PM Narendra Modi for the comprehensive and timely steps to ensure the Covid-19 vaccination. He said that the Government of India has provided an adequate supply of vaccines to all the citizens of Gujarat. The vaccine will be provided free of cost to citizens of all age groups in the state.
The state government has also made adequate arrangements for vaccination of youth in the age group of 18 to 44 years. CM Rupani said that from June 21, youth will not have to register in advance for vaccination. From now on everyone will be able to get the walk-in vaccine. He said that the number of vaccination booths in the state has also been increased to 5,000 so that the vaccine can be easily made available to every citizen at home in the state.
Gujarat is at the forefront of the inoculation drive of the country. The state, as of June 19, has so far administered over 2.15 crore doses for both first and second doses. Not only that, Gujarat ranks first in the vaccination ratio per million people. 30,75,163, healthcare workers and frontline warriors have been inoculated.
The Chief Minister further stated that the vaccine is the only infallible weapon in the fight against the pandemic. Our goal is to make as many people as possible safe and secure while experts and specialists are looking at the possibility of a third wave of the outbreak, he said.
CENTRAL AGENCIES HARASSING US, LET’S JOIN HANDS WITH BJP AGAIN: SHIV SENA MLA TO CM THACKERAY
Shiv Sena MLA Pratap Sarnaik has said that the party should team up with the BJP again to save its leaders from being ‘harassed’ by central agencies. In a letter to Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, legislator Pratap Sarnaik has said the former allies must patch up, especially for the many upcoming corporation elections, including those of Mumbai and Thane.
Sarnaik, who represents Thane’s Ovala-Majiwada constituency in the state Assembly, said though the BJP and the Shiv Sena are not allies anymore, their leaders have good relations and that “we should make use of this”.
“Several central agencies are behind me and other Shiv Sena leaders like Anil Parab and Ravindra Waikar, and they and their families are being harassed,” Sarnaik wrote in his letter which reached the Chief Minister’s Office on June 10.
“If the Shiv Sena and the BJP come together again, these leaders can be spared of such harassment,” he wrote.
The Enforcement Directorate (ED) had, last year, raided several properties belonging to Sarnaik in connection with a money laundering case. His son, Vihang Sarnaik, too, was questioned by the agency.
Maharashtra BJP chief Chandrakant Patil said BJP will mull joining hands with Sena only if Uddhav considers it.
COVID-19: AN NGO GIVES MUMBAI SLUM A JAB IN THE ARM
In the Govandi area’s Shivajinagar and Indira Nagar—Mumbai city’s populous and slum-dominated areas— Covid-19 protocols have gone for a toss. Life is going on, as usual, despite the government’s restrictions all across. In Govandi and Mankhurd, residents have scant regard for Covid-19 guidelines and do not seem too bothered by the pandemic. Amid such scenarios are three women—founders of Enrich Lives Foundation— who have taken up task of doing best for these slums; from Covid-19 awareness camps to Vaccination awareness programmes, they’re doing their best.
These women have initiated a campaign to inoculate slum dwellers in the 18-44 years age group. “People here are deprived of several basic things. We are helping them with several things from food, medication to vaccines. These people are extremely hesitant due to misinformation and the inability to afford vaccinations at private hospitals. We got inspired from door to door campaign. We have already given the jab to 150 people from Govandi slums and plan to vaccinate another 1,200 people from the Shivaji Nagar and further are working for 13 more slums.” says Samrudhi Chothani, one of the founders, and a lawyer by profession.
“To begin with, we started first with awareness campaigns for the public here who are just not so ready to get their jabs due to some myths. With the help of Switch India, we conducted vaccination awareness drives to clear their misconceptions and doubts.” says another co-founder, Shievani Upadhyay who’s also a financial analyst by profession.
Shedding light on how such maximum population of the maximum city has been ignored by authorities and, Rashmi Balwani who’s also a Business Entrepreneur, says, “We are just doing a bit. Authorities and all accountable people should come together to work for their betterment. Vaccination is an important ingredient to achieve herd immunity in Mumbai. All the local authorities should put some focus here because kids over here have not even taken basic vaccines like that of polio. While we are doing our best we want people’s support also for funds which can help us in a maximum way and lead Vaccination drive to every house in these slums.”
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