In whose interest is it anyway?

The loan moratorium theatre in India has entered a new phase, with the Supreme Court now involved.   On 29 March, the country’s central bank, the Reserve Bank of India, allowed all borrowers to avail a moratorium—basically a holiday from paying any monthly installment—until 31 August. And that has become a bone of contention.   The Supreme Court on Wednesday heard a plea by a petitioner Gajendra Sharma, who said that no interest should be charged during the moratorium because people are facing “extreme hardship”.   The Supreme Court bench, presiding over the matter, is now asking the same questions about the RBI’s decision that borrowers may have had. Especially now, after choosing the moratorium and staring at a fatter repayment.   This is an excerpt from a fascinating conversation published in LiveLaw, a legal news website:   Solicitor General, on behalf of the government and RBI: Moratorium effectively means “deferment”.   Justice Bhushan: Then the deferred amount should stay as it is while it is under moratorium.   Justice Kaul: What you are saying is you are doing them a favour by deferment for three months?   Solicitor General: That is for the banks to answer.   Justice Kaul: See that’s the problem. RBI says its the central government’s prerogative, the government says its the banks. ………   Harish Salve, representing the banks: According to authoritative estimates, the world will see a meltdown by 2022. Not charging interest during this period will put the entire banking sector under a lot of distress.   Senior Advocate Rajiv Dutta, representing the petitioner, interjects. But there’s already a pandemic going on! ………   Salve says that simply doing away with interest during this time is not a viable thing to do.   Justice Kaul: We are aware of all these concerns. We are talking only about interest on interest. For these three months, you have deferred but then you have not done away with interest on interest.   Mukul Rohatgi, the senior advocate representing banks: The benefit of deferment has to come with a cost. It cannot be availed and not come at a cost.   Justice Shah tells the Solicitor General that the Central Government has to step up and take a stand: You can’t have a notification saying so and then step out of it. You took the time to answer this. What you are saying was said by RBI.   Salve: Can I make a suggestion? Let’s wait for three months and see where this is going.   Dutta: I am obliged to your lordship for understanding the problem that petitioners are suffering. We are in an unprecedented situation. In the midst of a pandemic. They are over-complicating everything.   Dutta: Today the RBI wants to make money out of banks? In this serious situation? What about those people who have taken huge sums of money from banks and have fled the country? How were they excused?   Bench – Justice Bhushan dictating order: The issues in pleas are that Interest should not be charged during moratorium and at least interest on interest should not be charged. Let the petition be listed again by 1st week of August and the Centre and RBI will review the issue.   Now, if only this conversation happened *before* they rolled out the moratorium. 
Aarogya Setu (Mitr) could be a cat with nine lives
  Shreedhar   The Aarogya Setu app began as a contact tracing app. It amassed more than 100 million downloads in India. And then, it included an ancillary service called Aarogya Setu Mitr, which included telemedicine and e-pharmacies.   When the government launches a product and gets everyone, from social media platforms to schools, to promote it, getting on it is lucrative. The problem? Those that eventually benefit from the platform are also those that built it, as we wrote last month.   Alongside telemedicine startups, the biggest beneficiaries of Aarogya Setu Mitr were e-pharmacies such as 1mg, PharmEasy and Practo. And the biggest losers? An organised body of 850,000 chemist outlets throughout the country, which saw this as giving undue advantage to companies already on shaky legal ground.   The government seems to have caved in, for the time being.
The Narendra Modi government Tuesday informed the Delhi High Court that it will suspend the Aarogya Setu Mitr portal, which is linked to the Aarogya Setu app to promote online sale of medicines, following objections by nearly 8.5 lakh brick-and-mortar retail chemists across India.   The court was hearing a petition filed by the South Chemists and Distributors Association, which alleges that the portal is promoting online pharmacies through the Aarogya Setu app Govt suspends Aarogya Setu portal for e-pharmacies after chemists move Delhi HC against it, The Print
This is unlikely to be the end of Aarogya Setu Mitr. The government has been very keen to push for the adoption of Aarogya Setu, which is both built and maintained by the companies that see the business sense in Aarogya Setu Mitr. Incentives upon incentives.   In all likelihood, e-pharmacies won’t be kept away from Aarogya Setu for very long, just as they weren’t kept away from operating even after an e-pharmacy ban. Wait to see them rebrand and re-enter.
Taj Mahal Ho(spi)tel
It was just 15 months ago that the Tata Group won back the ownership of one of Delhi’s oldest luxury hotels, the Taj Mahal hotel. Established in 1978, it had been a symbol of luxury and wealth till 2011, when the 33-year-old lease on the land on which it stood ran out. The government of Delhi, led by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, decided to put the hotel up for sale instead of renewing its lease.   The Tata Group fought the Delhi government tooth and nail, but ultimately lost the case. Since then, it pays the Delhi government close to a million dollars each month. For this.
Its close proximity to the seat of government, the city’s diplomatic corps, commercial hubs, cultural centers and iconic heritage wonders, has furthered the hotel’s reputation as the epicentre of the capital. Taj Mahal, New Delhi provides luxury like none other. All around, grandeur meets elegance—antiques, priceless art, and traditional accents and colours are impeccably woven together with contemporary style and modern amenities. The 292 luxurious rooms including 26 suites, all of which offer stunning aerial views of Delhi’s historic skyline, or the one-of-a-kind Presidential Suite, are all perfected to host dignitaries and celebrities from across the globe.
Source: Taj Hotels (and some photoshop)
Yesterday, though, the Delhi government (still led by Arvind Kejriwal) “attached” it to one of the city’s private hospitals, the 675-bed Sir Gangaram Hospital.   The hospital and the hotel are seven kilometres apart. What the Delhi government did was to order the Taj Mahal hotel to turn itself into a Covid-19 treatment facility, under the control of the hospital. In doing so, the Taj Mahal became the sixth luxury hotel to be thus “attached” to a hospital.
The order also said that the hospital would be responsible for proper disposal of biomedical waste generated at the hotel.
All hotel staff will be provided with protective gear and basic training to handle Covid-19 patients, it said.   Ambulance for transfer of patients will be the hospital’s responsibility, while food, housekeeping service and disinfection of premises will be done by the hotel.   The charges for using the rooms will be collected by the hospital, which will then hand it over to the hotel, the order said.
The reason Delhi’s government is doing this is because it foresees a projected requirement of 150,000 hospital beds by the end of July. Delhi is currently one of the worst Covid-19 affected cities in India.
Luxury hotel groups are worried at the example being set by the Delhi government. If things continue to get worse in India, it might be used by other states too. Instead, they say, use large facilities like stadiums. Some are also rightly asking how they can compel their staff to work in what is now a high-risk Covid-19 hospital.   Unlike many western countries, India does not recognise the right to private property as a fundamental right. Plus, the laws under which India is managing its pandemic response (Disaster Management Act 2006, Epidemic disease Act 1897) give its governments pretty much the right to order whatever they feel appropriate without having to explain themselves. We wrote about it in an earlier issue of The Nutgraf, our weekly newsletter.   I presume the Taj Mahal management will continue to pay the Delhi government its nearly million-dollar monthly rental, while being forced to run it as a Covid-19 hospital.
Colleges need new gatekeepers   Seetharaman   The world’s most exclusive universities have, for years, been told that their admission process was not fair. Now, they have been forced to listen. Thank the pandemic for that.    Harvard University has joined its Ivy League peers like Yale University, Dartmouth College, and Columbia University in temporarily doing away with standardised admission tests—the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) and American College Testing (ACT).   The reason for this are problems in scheduling these tests in light of the pandemic. The nonprofit that conducts the SAT has said offering it online “would require three hours of uninterrupted, video-quality internet for each student, which can’t be guaranteed for all.” The ACT, on the other hand, will have an online version.   This is an opportunity for colleges to weigh these tests against using high-school grades, as critics of admissions tests have been demanding. After all, race and income play an important role in how a student scores on the standardised tests.
In 2019, 55 percent of Asian-American test takers and 45 percent of white test takers scored 1200 or higher on the SAT. For Hispanic and black students, those numbers were 12 percent and 9 percent.   SAT scores also correlate with income: In general, students from wealthier families — who tend to reap the benefits of better-funded schools and can pay thousands of dollars for private coaching and test prep — do better than those from lower-income ones. At poverty levels, the scoring disparity is twice as large for black students than for white ones. Will the coronavirus kill college admissions tests?, The New York Times
There are already signs that the change may be more lasting. The University of California is planning to eliminate the SAT or ACT requirement for California students by 2025. It plans to come up with its own replacement test.   In India, there have been unsuccessful attempts in the past to scrap the entrance exam to the elite Indian Institutes of Technology. The IIT entrance exam gives an edge to those who can afford to pay for coaching classes.   But could this pandemic rekindle debates about how colleges around the world admit students?
Buildings of the future    Ben   Covid-19 has led to many standards being challenged; the latest being modern building standards. Building codes determine various standards, from air conditioning and ventilation to how wide windows can be opened above a certain floor.   Singapore’s Building and Construction Authority is now looking into whether air conditioning and ventilation rules should be revised due to the pandemic. The last time the code was revised, in 2016, it sought to mitigate fine haze particles into buildings.   New building standards might now be formulated as a way to reduce transmission risk in future pandemics. From windows that could open and close to ventilation systems that incorporate both natural and mechanical systems—such solutions could be taken up as a way to ensure fresh air is circulated. Contactless solutions could also be a permanent fixture as new buildings are built to stave off the next pandemic.
Source: Facebook
Surviving “social jetlag”   Olina   Nope. It’s not a fancy term for re-entering society after months of self-imposed isolation. It’s actually a quasi-medical term for what your body does between weekends and weekdays. But that’s when we had weekdays and weekends, instead of the parallel reality of unstructured time we live in now.   Social jetlag, as defined in a 2019 Guardian article, “is a consequence of being forced to shift our bodies between two time zones: one dictated by work and social obligations, the other by our internal timing system, the circadian clock. It is estimated that two-thirds of us experience at least one hour of social jetlag a week, and a third experience two hours or more – equivalent to flying from London to Tel Aviv and back each week.”   Now freed of social obligations, researchers claim that social jetlag levels have also come down. We’re able to sleep in for longer, thus synching the circadian clock with our actual social life during waking hours (which is heavily curtailed during a pandemic).   But does this mean we’re getting more sleep? Technically, yes. But that doesn’t mean we’re sleeping any better. A study conducted by the University of Basel, Switzerland, shows that although social jetlag reduced, sleep quality deteriorated during the lockdown. Christine Blume, one of the neuroscientists behind the study, explains:
We think that the self-perceived burden, which substantially increased during this unprecedented COVID-19 lockdown, may have outweighed the otherwise beneficial effects of a reduced social jetlag. How COVID-19 lockdown has altered sleep in the US and Europe, Science Daily
There’s just no winning against Covid-19.

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