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13.5.21 The Hindu Editorials

India’s national positivity rate, or the proportion of tested cases returning positive, is around 21%. Moreover, 533 of the 734 districts have reported positivity greater than 10%. There are 26 States that had more than 15% positivity, nine with over 25% and 10 with 20%-25% positivity. Couple that with the faltering vaccination drive, and the picture is far from pretty. On April 12, India administered 3.7 million doses of vaccine and after April 26, it has failed to administer over 3 million doses a day. Ever since the vaccine drive was expanded to all adults over 18, on May 1, the maximum number of daily doses administered has been 2.4 million. This, even as daily new cases added continue to be above 380,000 and deaths close to 4,000 a day. The oxygen crisis continues and the pandemic has now established itself in rural India in lethal proportions, with macabre reports of bodies surfacing in the Ganga in the stretch from Uttar Pradesh to Bihar. All of these point to the fact that there is a very large pool of those infected and prone to infecting those around, bringing up the question of whether a national lockdown should be reimposed.

No fewer than 18 States have imposed various grades of lockdown or curfews. Some only lay stress on shutting down marketplaces whereas others are more reminiscent of the curbs of March and April last year. These restrictions are expected to be in force at least till the third week of this month. Many of the States with the highest positivity rates and growth in infections have already imposed restrictions on the main sources of continued spread. These include religious gatherings, social functions and leisure visits to public entertainment spaces. A ‘national lockdown’ at this stage has only cosmetic value. India’s economy was already in a nosedive before March 2020 and the sudden imposition wreaked havoc on the migrant workforce. The brutality of the second wave has burnished the importance of masking up and opting for a vaccine as early as possible. In the absence of newer effective treatments, these continue to be the mainstay in staying safe. A lesson that has emerged from the pandemic is that States are best equipped to take care of themselves with the Centre doing its job best while acting as a facilitator. Central Ministers, armed with the best medical experts, had declared early this year that India was in the ‘end game’ of the pandemic and that India had “shown the world” how to beat it. Instead, the Centre must focus on distributing equitably across States vaccines, oxygen tankers, testing kits and other critical medical equipment while also accounting for a potential third wave.

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1.Faltering (Adj)-losing strength or momentum.

2.Lethal (Adj)-very harmful or destructive. घातक

3.Macabre (Adj)-very alarming or horrifying. भयावह

4.Bringing Up (Phrasal Verb)-raise a matter for discussion or consideration.

5.Reminiscent (Adj)-similar to something else.

6.Nosedive (N)-a sudden dramatic deterioration. भारी गिरावट

7.Wreaked Havoc (Phrase)-to cause very great harm or damage.

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🛑If overcrowding of prisons has been a perennial problem in this country, high occupancy levels can only mean bad news amidst a pandemic Court has been intervening from time to time to address this problem, but its latest order directing the interim release of eligible prisoners acquires salience in view of the uncontrolled second surge in the raging pandemic. Last year, the Court had passed such an order quite early — the one of March 23, 2020 came even before the nation-wide lockdown. The Court had then ordered all States to take preventive steps as well as constitute high-powered committees to determine the class of prisoners who could be released on bail or parole for a specified period. In directing this week that besides identifying more prisoners for release, the same set of prisoners be given parole this year too, the Court continues its trend of seeking to protect prisoners as well as those guarding them from getting infected. There have been significant initiatives to prevent any uncontrollable spread within the congested jails, ranging from stopping the practice of transporting remand prisoners to court for periodical extension of custody and hearings to asking authorities to prepare readiness and response plans. The Court’s order is welcome, both as a move to decongest jails and a measure that protects the right to life and health of the prisoners. Now that the issue of reducing occupancy in the prison is once again under focus, and not merely for the usual reason of overcrowding, but also in view of the vulnerability of prisoners and prison staff to infection and disease, a comprehensive look at imprisonment practices in the country may be in order.

There have been reports of prisoners testing positive and getting hospitalised. How far the regular testing and medical treatment available to inmates across the country is effective is unclear. Further, even political prisoners, such as those jailed in the Bhima Koregaon case without any direct link to any act of violence, are being repeatedly denied bail, solely because stringent laws have been invoked against them. Some political activists in Delhi are also in jail under anti-terrorism laws for alleged complicity in riots early last year. The courts must take into account their vulnerability to infection and consider bail. In its order, the Supreme Court has rightly emphasised the need to adhere to the norms it had laid down in Arnesh Kumar vs State of Bihar (2014) under which the police were asked not to effect unnecessary arrests, especially in cases that involve jail terms less than seven years. In the past, the Court has also asked authorities in all districts in the country to give effect to Section 436A of the Cr.P.C., under which undertrials who have completed half of the maximum prison term prescribed for the offence may be released on personal bond. Effective follow-up action is needed to audit these measures so that these are not implemented selectively or arbitrarily.

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1.Perennial (Adj)-lasting a long time, or happening repeatedly or all the time. नित्य

2.Salience (N)-the quality of being particularly noticeable or important; prominence. प्रमुखता

3.Surge (N)-a sudden powerful increase. बढ़ना

4.Readiness (N)-the state of being fully prepared for something. तत्परता

5.Decongest (V)-to ease crowding or clogging in (an area). भीड़ कम

6.Inmates (N)-a person who is forced by law to stay in a prison or hospital. कैदियों

7.Stringent (Adj)-(of regulations, requirements, or conditions) strict, precise, and exacting. कठोर

-------------------------------------with thanks to original sources on net


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