Current Affairs Analysis

14th March 2020 Current Affairs Analysis – IASToppers

Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment;Remission of Duties and Taxes on Exported Products; Potential new therapy for tongue cancer; P53 protein; Major Port Authorities Bill 2020; Boards of Port Authority; Bird flu confirmed in Kerala; Bird Flu or Avian Influenza; Conversion to a different faith is an individual’s choice: HC; Right to propagate any religion; Masks, sanitizers declared essential commodities; Essential Commodities Act 1955; Common test for Central government jobs from 2021; Indian Vulture; Diclofenac; MSP for Copra; Bio-pesticides; Wings India 2020; Average life Expectancy; Organ Donation
By IASToppers
March 14, 2020

Contents

Polity & Governance

  • Conversion to a different faith is an individual’s choice: HC

Government Schemes & Policies

  • Major Port Authorities Bill 2020

Issues related to Health & Education

  • Potential new therapy for tongue cancer
  • Bird flu confirmed in Kerala
  • Common test for Central government jobs from 2021

Economy

  • Remission of Duties and Taxes on Exported Products
  • Masks, sanitizers declared essential commodities
  • MSP for Copra

Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management

  • Indian Vulture

Science & Technology

  • Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment

Key Facts for Prelims

  • Bio-pesticides
  • Wings India 2020
  • Average life Expectancy
  • Organ Donation

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Polity & Governance

Conversion to a different faith is an individual’s choice: HC

The Delhi High Court recently said that religion is a personal belief and whether to convert to a different faith or not is an individual’s choice while declining to entertain a plea for stopping or regulating religious conversions.

  • The Bench added that there was no reason for an individual to succumb to threats, intimidation or allurement to convert to a different faith.

What is the issue?

  • The petitioner in his plea in HC had contended that many individuals, NGOs and institutions are converting downtrodden persons, particularly of the Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe community, by “intimidating, threatening, luring by monetary benefits and by other acts, including miracle healing, black magic and more”.
  • It also claimed that as per the 2011 census, Hindus constitute 79% of the population down from 86 % in 2001 and if no action is taken “Hindus will become minority in India”.

Laws in Indian Constitution:

  • Part III of the Indian Constitution guarantees various fundamental rights.
  • Article 25- 28 provides for the right to freedom of religion.

Article 25(1):

  • It states that “Subject to public order, morality and health and to the other provisions of this part, all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practice and propagate religion”.
  • So it is very much evident from the words of article 25(1) that this right is not restricted to Indian citizens only but also extends to all persons including aliens.
  • It talks about state interference in matters related to any economic, financial, political or any other secular activity which is associated with religious practice and any other activity related to social welfare and reforms.

Article 26:

  • It states that subject to public order, morality and health, religious denominations or any section shall have the right to freedom to run or manage religious affairs.
  • Both Articles 25 and 26 are not absolute but are subject to certain limitations to maintain public order, morality, and peace in the country.

Article 27:

  • It mandates that no person shall be compelled by the state to pay any taxes, the proceeds of which are specifically appropriated in payment of expenses for the promotion or maintenance of particular religion or religious denominations.

Article 28:

  • It states that no religious instruction shall be imparted in the state-funded educational institutions.

Right to propagate any religion:

  • The question whether ‘right to convert’ comes under the ambit of ‘right to propagate any religion’ holds fundamental importance to determine the constitutionality of anti-conversion laws.
  • Even today this question cannot be answered that whether the right to propagate any religion includes right to conversion or not.
  • There is no expressed provision for ‘conversion’ in the Indian Constitution but still, there are some whose contention is in the favor that right to conversion is implicit under Article 25 which emerges from freedom of conscience.

 [Ref: The Hindu, iPleaders]

Government Schemes & Policies

Major Port Authorities Bill 2020

Major Port Authorities Bill 2020 was introduced in the Lok Sabha by the Minister of State for Shipping recently.

Objective:

  • The Bill seeks to provide for regulation, operation and planning of Major Ports in India and to vest the administration, control and management of such ports upon the Boards of Major Port Authorities and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.
  • To promote the expansion of port infrastructure and facilitate trade and commerce.
  • It aims at decentralizing decision making and to infuse professionalism in governance of major ports. 

About the Bill:

  • The Ministry of Shipping has proposed to replace the Major Port Trusts Act, 1963 by the Major Port Authorities Bill, 2020.
  • This will empower the Major Ports to perform with greater efficiency on account of full autonomy in decision making and by modernizing the institutional framework of Major Ports.
  • It would help to impart faster and transparent decision making benefiting the stakeholders and better project execution capability.
  • The Bill is aimed at reorienting the governance model in central ports to landlord port model in line with the successful global practice.
  • This will also help in bringing transparency in operations of Major Ports.

Salient features:

  • It is compact in comparison to the Major Port Trusts Act, 1963 as the number of sections has been reduced to 76 from 134 by eliminating overlapping and obsolete Sections.
  • The Bill has proposed a simplified composition of the Board of Port Authority which will comprise of 11 to 13 Members.
  • A compact Board with professional independent Members will strengthen decision making and strategic planning.
  • The role of Tariff Authority for Major Ports (TAMP) has been redefined.
  • Port Authority has now been given powers to fix tariff which will act as a reference tariff for purposes of bidding for PPP projects.
  • PPP operators will be free to fix tariff based on market conditions.
  • The Board of Port Authority has been delegated the power to fix the scale of rates for other port services and assets including land.

Adjudicatory Board:

  • An Adjudicatory Board has been proposed to be created:
    • to carry out the residual function of the erstwhile TAMP for Major Ports,
    • to look into disputes between ports and PPP concessionaires,
    • to review stressed PPP projects and suggest measures to review stressed PPP projects,
    • to suggest measures to revive such projects and
    • to look into complaints regarding services rendered by the ports/ private operators operating within the ports would be constituted.

Boards of Port Authority:

  • The Boards of Port Authority have been delegated full powers to enter into contracts, planning and development, fixing of tariff except in national interest, security and emergency arising out of inaction and default.  In the present MPT Act, 1963 prior approval of the Central Government was required in 22 instances.
  • The Board of each Major Port shall be entitled to create specific master plan in respect of any development or infrastructure established or proposed to be established within the port limits and the land appurtenant thereto and such master plan shall be independent of any local or State Government regulations of any authority whatsoever.
  • Provisions of CSR & development of infrastructure by Port Authority have been introduced.
[Ref: PIB]

Issues related to Health & Education

Potential new therapy for tongue cancer

A team of scientists at the Department of Biotechnology’s Hyderabad-based Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics is coming out with a new insight into the mechanism by which an anti-cancer protein helps in the development of cancer when it mutates.

P53 protein:

  • Human cells carry a protein called p53.
  • It is very helpful as it controls several fundamental processes including cell division and repair of damaged DNA.
  • It functions by binding directly to DNA leading to the production of proteins needed for regular cellular functions as well as effectively blocking cancer development.
  • However, its ability to prevent cancer is significantly compromised, if it mutates.
  • The recent studies have reported that some specific and common mutated p53 forms even activate cancer growth.

Recent study:

  • In a new study, scientists at CDFD have identified rare p53 mutant forms unique to Indian tongue cancer and the likely means by which these mutant p53 cause cancer.
  • The tongue cancer samples from post-surgery patients were screened for modifications in a gene called TP53.
  • The gene is a sequence of nucleotides (building blocks) in the DNA that code for the production of the p53 protein.
  • They identified target genes of the mutant p53 protein.
  • Of these, a gene called SMARCD1 was the most prominent.
  • SMARCD1 was an exclusive target of mutations observed in Indian tongue cancer patients and the first time that SMARCD1 has been shown to be a possible driver of any form of cancer.

Significance:

  • The observations reveal a new and probable mechanism by which mutant p53 proteins encourage cancer development.
  • The results of the study can be employed to develop therapies to treat tongue cancer, a common debilitating cancer in India.
[Ref: PIB]

Bird flu confirmed in Kerala

The suspected cases of avian influenza (bird flu) are being reported from various parts of the Kerala.

Mitigatory measures:

  • Special squads had been formed to cull birds within a certain distance around the affected areas to bring the situation under control.
  • About 4,000 chicken and birds are expected to be killed in two days as part of defensive measures being taken to prevent the spread of bird flu.
  • The State was well-equipped with specialized laboratories to diagnose zoonotic diseases without delay and adopt preventive measures.

Bird Flu or Avian Influenza:

  • Avian influenza (AI), commonly called bird flu, is an infectious viral disease of birds.
  • These viruses occur naturally among wild aquatic birds worldwide and can infect domestic poultry and other bird and animal species.
  • People catch bird flu by close contact with birds or bird droppings or undercooked poultry.

Effects of Avian influenza:

  • Outbreaks of AI in poultry may raise global public health concerns due to their effect on poultry populations, their potential to cause serious disease in people, and their pandemic potential.
  • Reports of highly pathogenic AI epidemics in poultry, such as A (H5N1), can seriously impact local and global economies and international trade.

What is H5N1?

  • Most avian influenza viruses do not infect humans. However, some, such as A (H5N1) and A (H7N9), have caused serious infections in people.
  • H5N1 is a type of influenza virus that causes a highly infectious, severe respiratory disease in birds called avian influenza.
  • Human cases of H5N1 avian influenza occur occasionally, but it is difficult to transmit the infection from person to person.
  • When people do become infected, the mortality rate is about 60%.

How does H5N1 influenza spread to people?

  • Almost all cases of H5N1 infection in people have been associated with close contact with infected live or dead birds, or H5N1-contaminated environments.
  • The virus does not infect humans easily, and spread from person to person appears to be unusual.

Why is there so much concern about H5N1 influenza?

  • H5N1 infection in humans can cause severe disease and has a high mortality rate.
  • If the H5N1 virus were to change and become easily transmissible from person to person while retaining its capacity to cause severe disease, the consequences for public health could be very serious.

 [Ref: The Hindu]

Common test for Central government jobs from 2021

To streamline the hiring process, Centre has proposed to set up National Recruitment Agency to conduct the online test for Central government exams.

What is the move?

  • As per the Ministry for Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions, the applicants for jobs in railways, banks and lower levels of Central government will now write a common eligibility test (CET) from 2021.
  • It is done to streamline the hiring process for government agencies as well as the 2.5 crore candidates who apply each year.
  • The Centre will set up an autonomous National Recruitment Agency (NRA) to conduct this online test.

Level playing field:

  • This is not merely an administrative reform, but a huge socio-economic reform as well.
  • It aims at providing a level playing field for all candidates by removing the obstacles involved in appearing for multiple examinations.
  • The exam dates for 2020 have already been announced [for the existing separate exams], so this will be implemented from 2021.
  • He said the NRA proposal, which had been in the works for about six months and was announced in the 2020 budget speech, would soon go for Cabinet approval.
  • The CET will replace the first level tests conducted by the Staff Selection Commission (SSC), the Railway Recruitment Board (RRB) and the Institute of Banking Personnel Selection (IBPS).

Status Quo:

  • Currently, there are about 1.25 lakh vacancies in the Central government, at the Group B and C level, often known as non-gazetted officers.
  • About 2.5 crore young men and women apply every year for examinations to fill these vacancies, also appearing for 50 other recruitment tests for positions at public sector banks, railways, police, paramilitary forces and other State and Central government bodies.
  • The recruitment cycle takes at least 18 months and is often marred by clashing dates, leaked papers and examination scams.

Common portal:

  • Under the new NRA system, candidates will apply through a common registration portal, paying a single entrance fee.
  • They will prepare from a common curriculum.
  • Examination centres will be set up in each district, with the Centre committing to invest in the necessary infrastructure for 117 aspirational districts.
  • A standardized question bank with multiple questions of similar difficulty levels will be created in a central server.
  • An algorithm will be used to jumble and dole out different questions, so that each candidate receives a different question paper, reducing the chances of cheating and paper leakage.
  • Scores will be generated quickly, delivered online and be valid for a three-year period.
  • Students can write the test multiple times as long as they are within the eligible age limit, with their best score being taken into account.
  • Ultimately, the aim is to allow examination by appointment at the convenience of candidates.
  • However, the examination will be held once a year.

Huge savings:

  • For the recruiting agencies, the savings in terms of logistics are huge.
  • For police and paramilitary recruitment, the CET scores plus physical assessment is all that is required, potentially reducing the recruitment cycle to three months.
  • For more specialized positions, the CET will act as the preliminary elimination level, which can be followed by further testing by the separate agencies.

 [Ref: The Hindu]

Economy

Remission of Duties and Taxes on Exported Products

The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs, chaired by Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi approves scheme for Remission of Duties and Taxes on Exported Products (RoDTEP) to boost exports Scheme for enhancing Exports to International Markets.

Objective:

  • To make Indian exports cost competitive and create a level playing field for exporters in International market.
  • To give a boost to employment generation in various sectors.

Major Provisions:

  • A mechanism would be created under the scheme for reimbursement of taxes/ duties/ levies, at the central, state and local level, which are currently not being refunded under any other mechanism, but which are incurred in the process of manufacture and distribution of exported products.
  • This scheme is going to give a boost to the domestic industry and Indian exports providing a level playing field for Indian producers in the International market so that domestic taxes/duties are not exported.
  • Under the Scheme an inter-ministerial Committee will determine the rates and items for which the reimbursement of taxes and duties would be provided.
  • In line with “Digital India”, refund under the Scheme, in the form of transferable duty credit/electronic scrip will be issued to the exporters, which will be maintained in an electronic ledger.
  • The Scheme will be implemented with end to end digitization.
  • The refunds under the RoDTEP scheme would be a step towards “zero-rating” of exports, along with refunds such as Drawback and IGST.

Salient features:

  • At present, GST taxes and import/customs duties for inputs required to manufacture exported products are either exempted or refunded.
  • However, certain taxes/duties/levies are outside GST, and are not refunded for exports, such as, VAT on fuel used in transportation, Mandi tax, Duty on electricity used during manufacturing etc. These would be covered for reimbursement under the RoDTEP Scheme.
  • RoDTEP scheme is WTO compliant, will reimburse taxes/duties/levies at the central, state and local level, which are currently not being refunded.
  • Items will be shifted in a phased manner from existing scheme MEIS to RoDTEP with proper monitoring & audit mechanism.
  • The sequence of introduction of the Scheme across sectors, prioritization of the sectors to be covered, degree of benefit to be given on various items within the rates set by the Committee will be decided and notified by the Department of Commerce (DoC).
  • The rebate would be claimed as a percentage of the Freight On Board (FOB) value of exports.
  • A monitoring and audit mechanism, with an Information Technology based Risk Management System (RMS), would be put in to physically verify the records of the exporters.
  • As and when the rates under the RoDTEP Scheme are announced for a tariff line/ item, the Merchandise Exports from India Scheme (MEIS) benefits on such tariff line/item will be discontinued.

Significance:

  • This would lead to cost competitiveness of exported products in international markets and better employment opportunities in export oriented manufacturing industries.
  • In line with the vision of Prime Minister, various export oriented industries are being reformed and introduced to better mechanisms so as to increase their productivity, boost exports and contribute to the overall economy.

 [Ref: PIB]

Masks, sanitizers declared essential commodities

Masks and hand sanitizers have been declared as essential commodities due to shortage in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak.

What is the move?

  • The Centre notified an order under the Essential Commodities Act, 1955 to declare 2 ply and 3 ply surgical masks, N95 masks and hand sanitizers as essential commodities till June 30, 2020.
  • It has also issued an advisory under the Legal Metrology Act, so that States can ensure these items are not sold for more than the Maximum Retail Price (MRP).

Significance:

  • It has been noted that these products are “either not available with most of the vendors in the market or are available with great difficulty at exorbitant prices”.
  • States can now notify the Central order in their own official gazettes, and ask manufacturers to enhance production capacity of these products.
  • The decision would also empower the State and Central governments to regulate production, quality, distribution and sales of these items and carry out operations against those involved in speculation, overpricing and black marketing.

Essential Commodities Act 1955:

  • While India is a market economy where prices are ostensibly decided by demand and supply, certain laws empower the Centre to intervene in the market to protect consumer interests.

What is it?

  • The ECA was enacted way back in 1955. It has since been used by the Government to regulate the production, supply and distribution of a whole host of commodities it declares ‘essential’ in order to make them available to consumers at fair prices.
  • The list of items under the Act include drugs, fertilizers, pulses and edible oils, and petroleum and petroleum products.
  • The Centre can include new commodities as and when the need arises, and take them off the list once the situation improves.

How it works?

  • If the Centre finds that a certain commodity is in short supply and its price is spiking, it can notify stock-holding limits on it for a specified period.
  • The States act on this notification to specify limits and take steps to ensure that these are adhered to.
  • Anybody trading or dealing in a commodity, be it wholesalers, retailers or even importers are prevented from stockpiling it beyond a certain quantity.
  • A State can, however, choose not to impose any restrictions.
  • But once it does, traders have to immediately sell into the market any stocks held beyond the mandated quantity.
  • This improves supplies and brings down prices. As not all shopkeepers and traders comply, State agencies conduct raids to get everyone to toe the line and the errant are punished.
  • The excess stocks are auctioned or sold through fair price shops.

Relevance:

  • Without the ECA the common man would be at the mercy of opportunistic traders and shopkeepers.
  • It cracks down on hoarders and black-marketers of such commodities.
  • It empowers the government to control prices directly too.
  • The recent amendment to the Legal Metrology (Packaged Commodities) Rules 2011 is linked to the ECA.
  • The Government can fix the retail price of any packaged commodity that falls under the ECA.
  • An offender under the Essential Commodities Act can be punished with imprisonment up to seven years, or a fine, or both.

 [Ref: The Hindu, Bussiness Line]

MSP for Copra

The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs has given its approval for the Minimum Support Prices (MSPs) for copra for 2020 season.

Central Nodal Agencies:

  • The National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India Limited (NAFED) and National Cooperative Consumer Federation of India Limited (NCCF) will continue to act as Central Nodal Agencies to undertake price support operations at the MSP in the coconut growing states.
  • India is number one in production and productivity of Copra in the World.

Copra:

  • Copra is the dried kernel of the coconut, which is the fruit of the coconut palm.
  • Coconut oil is extracted from copra, making it an important agricultural commodity for many coconut-producing countries
  •  It also yields de-fatted coconut cake after oil extraction, which is mainly used as feed for livestock.
[Ref: PIB]

Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management

Indian Vulture

A unique ‘restaurant’ in Himachal Pradesh has attracted the attention of the local populace for conserving several species of vultures.

Vulture Restaurant:

  • Being natural scavengers, vultures have suffered from rapid urbanization and deteriorating climate.
  • Their population has dwindled as an increase in man-made activities reduced their food sources.
  • The ‘Vulture Restaurant’ — established at Sukhnara village in Kangra district, Himanchal Pradesh is a unique initiative to conserve vultures.
  • The state forest department’s wildlife wing — which operates it allows the local population to bring their dead pets and livestock as food for vultures.

Conservation efforts:

  • The state government had sought to protect the dwindling number of vultures in 2004, when figures revealed there were only 26 vulture nests with 23 baby vultures in the district’s Pongdam wetland area.
  • After the ‘restaurant’ was established in 2008, this number increased to 387 nests, carrying 352 baby vultures in 2019.
  • Eight of the world’s 16 vulture species — including the Himalayan vulture and European vulture — have been sighted at the restaurant.
  • The concept of a vulture restaurant is, however, not a new one. The first such restaurant was created in South Africa in 1966.
  • Inspired by this concept, similar restaurants were created in several other countries, including Cambodia, Switzerland, Spain and Nepal.

Indian Vulture:

  • A vulture is a scavenging bird of prey.
  • The Indian vulture (Gyps indicus) is an Old World vulture native to India, Pakistan and Nepal.
  • The population of vultures have severely declined due to kidney failure caused by diclofenac poisoning.
  • IUCN: critically Endangered.

Diclofenac:

  • Diclofenac is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). This medicine works by reducing substances in the body that cause pain and inflammation.
  • Population of three Gyps vultures in South Asia decreased by about 95% in the 1990s.
  • A major contributing factor in declining populations of vultures is believed to be widespread use of drugs such as diclofenac, once commonly used as a livestock anti-inflammatory drug.
  • The drug is administered to the cows, and vultures when scavenge on their carcasses intake this drug which is toxic to them, resulting in renal failure and death.
  • Though the government had banned the veterinary use of diclofenac in 2006 after it was found that it had decimated the once thriving vulture population in the country to near extinction, but the human formulations of diclofenac are still used illegally to treat animals.
[Ref: Down to Earth]

Science & Technology

Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE):

  • Researchers from Indian Institute of Geomagnetism (IIG), an autonomous institute under the Department of Science & Technology, have found the Himalayas subside and move up depending on the seasonal changes in groundwater.
  • The researchers have made the combined use of Global Positioning System(GPS) and Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) data, which has made it possible for them to quantify the variations of hydrologic mass.
  • The GRACE satellites, launched by the US in 2002, monitor changes in water and snow stores on the continents.
  • This made it possible for the IIG team to study terrestrial hydrology.

Key Facts for Prelims

Bio-pesticides

To promote the use of bio pesticides in agriculture, Central Insecticide Board & Registration Committee has formulated simplified guidelines for registration of bio pesticides as compared to chemical pesticides.

Key Facts:

  • During provisional registration granted under Section 9 (3B) of The Insecticides Act, 1968, the applicant is allowed to commercialize the bio-pesticides, unlike chemical pesticides.
  • Biopesticides are certain types of pesticides derived from such natural materials as animals, plants, bacteria, and certain minerals.

Wings India 2020

  • Wings India 2020, the biennial civil aviation and aerospace event was launched at Begumpet Airport in Hyderabad recently.

  • The event is being organised by Ministry of Civil Aviation along with Airports Authority of India and FICCI (Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry).

Average Life Expectancy

  • As per the report titled SRS Based Life Table 2013-17 published by the Office of the Registrar General & Census Commissioner, Government of India, the average life expectancy at birth has increased from 49.7 during 1970-75 to 69.0 in 2013-17, registering an increase of 19.3 years during this period.
  • As per the same report, the life expectancy at birth for male and female during 2013-17 were 67.8 and 70.4 years respectively.

Life expectancy:

  • Life expectancy is a statistical measure of the average time an organism is expected to live, based on the year of its birth, its current age and other demographic factors including gender.

Organ Donation

Government of India has enacted the Transplantation of Human Organs Act, 1994 which has been amended in 2011 after the Parliament has passed the Transplantation of Human Organs (Amendment) Act, 2011.

Purpose:

  • The Act is for the purpose of regulation and removal, storage and transplantation of human organs and tissues for therapeutic purpose and for prevention of commercial dealing in human organs and tissues and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.
  • Health being a State subject, the States are required to adopt the Act before it may become applicable therein.
  • The Original Act, i.e. the Transplantation of Human Organs Act, 1994 is applicable in all States and Union Territories (UTs) except State of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana which have their own Act on this subject.

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