Polity & Governance
- Meghalaya launches India’s first social audit law
- Proposal to empower executive magistrate to issue adoption orders
Government Schemes & Policies
- RERA’s administration under Urban Affairs Ministry’s domain
Issues related to Health & Education
- Supreme Court refers fixed dose combination drugs issue to govt expert body
- IMA tightens the screws on antibiotic prescriptions
- Government to bear MDR charges on digital transactions up to Rs 2,000
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
- Biodiversity under alien attack
- NDMA to conduct Training of Trainers for Sendai Framework
Defence & Security Issues
- Soviet-era MI-8 ‘Pratap’ helicopter of Indian Air Force phased out
Science & Technology
- NASA and Google discover exoplanet Kepler-90i in ‘second solar system’
Key Facts for Prelims
- ‘NYAYA GRAM’ Project of High Court of Allahabad
- Gabon as polio-free
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Polity & Governance
Meghalaya launches India’s first social audit law
With the launch of ‘The Meghalaya Community Participation and Public Services Social Audit Act, 2017’, Meghalaya has become the first state in India to operationalise a law that makes social audit of government programmes and schemes a part of government practice.
- Prior to enacting this law, social audits of government programmes were done at the initiative of civil society organisations. These social audits had no official legal sanction.
- The legislation provides a legal framework for allowing citizens’ participation in the planning of development, selection of beneficiaries, concurrent monitoring of programmes, redress of grievances, and audit of works, services, and programmes on an annual basis.
- The legislation is applicable to 11 departments and 21 schemes.
- A social audit facilitator will be appointed to conduct the audit directly with the people.
- The facilitator will present findings to the Gram Sabha, who will add inputs and the result will finally go to autonomous auditors.
Significance of social audit law:
- It will make it easier to correct course as the scheme is rolling along; the audit is not after all the money has been spent.
- It gives people a direct say in how money will be spent and fills an information gap for officers as they are directly in touch with the ground.
- Social audits have been civil society initiatives rather than government-mandated. They are now part of the system.
Significance of social audit:
- Social audit is considered as grassroots method of auditing and stems from people themselves.
- It will make auditing more meaningful. It is considered as an extension of larger accountability framework.
- It will further lead to institutionalisation of participatory democratic governance.
Proposal to empower executive magistrate to issue adoption orders
In an effort to tackle the delay in issuing adoption orders by courts, which are supposed to dispose such cases within two months from the date of filing, the Ministry of Women and Child Development is planning to amend the Juvenile Justice (JJ) Act, 2015.
What’s the proposal?
- It has proposed empowering the executive magistrate, instead of the court, to issue orders under the adoption proceedings.
- Presently according to the JJ Act, once an adoption order is issued by a court, the child becomes the son/daughter of the adoptive parents for all purposes from the date on which the adoption order takes effect.
- Further, all ties of the child and his or her biological family stand severed and are replaced by those created by the adoption order.
Need for an amendment:
- Though Section 61 (2) of the JJ Act states that the ‘adoption proceedings shall be held in camera and the case shall be disposed of by the court within a period of two months from the date of filing’, a number of adoption proceedings are getting delayed, some even pending for more than two years.
- There is also a need to enquire into various processes of adoption and ensure that there is nothing illegal in the adoption.
- While the intent is good, the execution of this order may not be in the best interest of the child. It is because a district magistrate is already overburdened with several responsibilities and may not be in a position to look at this in detail.
- Besides, he/she may not have the legal acumen for carrying out these proceedings.
- Some experts expressed scepticism if a district magistrate could look into all the factors involving in the process of adoption like if the family was ‘physically fit, financially sound, mentally alert and highly motivated to adopt a child’.
All about Juveniles Justice Act, 2015:
The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 came into force in January, 2016.
- The new Act repeals the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000.
- The JJ Act, 2015 provides for strengthened provisions for both children in need of care and protection and children in conflict with law.
- It strikes a fine balance between the demands of the stakeholders asking for continued protection of rights of juveniles and the popular demand of citizens in the light of increasing incidence of heinous crimes by young boys.
Key provisions of the act:
- The Act clearly defines and classifies offences as petty, serious and heinous, and defines differentiated processes for each category.
Provisions for serious and heinous offences
- Keeping in view the increasing number of serious offences being committed by persons in the age group of 16-18 years and recognizing the rights of the victims as being equally important as the rights of juveniles, special provisions are incorporated in the Act to tackle heinous offences committed by individuals in this age group.
Child Adoption Resources Authority (CARA)
- It establishes a statutory status for the Child Adoption Resources Authority (CARA).
- Mandatory registration of all institutions engaged in providing child care is required according to the Act.
Juvenile Justice Board
- The new law gives the Juvenile Justice Board the power to assess whether the perpetrator of a heinous crime aged between 16 and 18, had acted as a ‘child’ or as an ‘adult.’
- The board will be assisted in this process by psychologists and social experts.
- New offences including illegal adoption, corporal punishment in child care institutions, the use of children by militant groups, and offences against disabled children are also incorporated in the legislation.
- It also proposes several rehabilitation and social integration measures for institutional and non-institutional children. It provides for sponsorship and foster care as completely new measures.
Government Schemes & Policies
RERA’s administration under Urban Affairs Ministry’s domain
The work of the Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Act, 2016, which mandates the establishment of the Real Estate Regulatory Authority (RERA), will be looked after by the Urban Affairs Ministry.
- In this regard, the central government has amended the Government of India (Allocation of Business) Rules 1961.
In another order,
- The development, operation and maintenance of the National Public Procurement Portal Government e-Marketplace has been brought under the commerce ministry.
- The administration of the Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act, 2014, will also be done by Urban Affairs Ministry.
About the Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Act, 2016:
The Real Estate (Regulation & Development) Act, 2016 was partly brought into effect on 1 May 2016 and partially on 1 May 2017.
- The act regulates transactions between buyers and promoters of residential real estate projects, through establishment of a state level regulatory authorities called Real Estate Regulatory Authorities (RERAs).
- Residential real estate projects, with some exceptions, need to be registered with RERAs. Promoters cannot book or offer these projects for sale without registering them. Real estate agents dealing in these projects also need to register with RERAs.
- On registration, the promoter must upload details of the project on the website of the RERA. These include the site and layout plan, and schedule for completion of the real estate project.
- 70% of the amount collected from buyers for a project must be maintained in a separate bank account and must only be used for construction of that project. The state government can alter this amount to less than 70%.
- It fixes liability on the developers for structural defects for five years.
- Both, developers and buyers, are required to pay the same penal interest of SBI’s Marginal Cost of Lending Rate plus 2% in case of delays.
- The Act establishes state level tribunals called Real Estate Appellate Tribunals. Decisions of RERAs can be appealed in these tribunals.
- It prescribed imprisonment of up to three years for developers and up to one year in case of agents and buyers for violation of orders of Appellate Tribunals and Regulatory Authorities.
Issues related to Health & Education
Supreme Court refers fixed dose combination drugs issue to govt expert body
The Supreme Court referred the issue of fixed dose combination (FDC) drugs to the government’s expert body, Drugs Technical Advisory Board (DTAB), for a fresh review of their safety, efficacy and therapeutic justification before recommending action.
Course of action:
- After the examination by the DTAB or a sub-committee constituted by it and hearing all stakeholders concerned, the expert body will be required to forward its report to the government for action within six months.
- As per the SC’s order the government can order a drug off the market shelf if it is found to be unsafe, without having the issue first examined by the Drugs Technical Advisory Board (DTAB).
- The government can take a product off the market if there are reports that it has been banned in other countries or there are reports within the country that the product was unsafe.
- The pharmaceutical industry that had stressed on the need for DTAB’s evaluation before an FDC was banned.
- In an attempt to address the issue, the Centre had the Kokate committee look into it. The panel had termed 963 FDCs “irrational”, posing health threats. The government finally banned 344 FDCs last year. But with pharmaceutical companies arguing against the order, the case landed up at the Supreme Court.
What are fixed dose combination (FDC) medicines?
- A fixed dose combination (FDC) is one that contains two or more drugs combined in a fixed ratio of doses and available in a single dosage form.
- They are widely used to improve patient compliance as it is easier for them to take one drug than several.
- They are acceptable only when the drugs so combined have a therapeutic advantage.
India is one of the world’s largest markets for FDC drugs that make up almost half the market share.
- Rampant introduction of irrational FDCs not only exposes the patients to unnecessary risk of adverse drug reactions but also creates health problem in larger groups of people.
- Most of these FDCs are available in India as over-the-counter products.
IMA tightens the screws on antibiotic prescriptions
Alarmed over the growing antibiotic resistance that has made it difficult to treat many bacterial infections, the Indian Medical Association (IMA) has advised doctors to follow strictly guidelines while prescribing antibiotics.
- To address this issue, IMA has advised its members to mandatorily restrict the usage of antibiotics for treatment of proven bacterial infections.
- It has also come out with a policy on anti-microbial resistance.
What are the concerns?
- Despite the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) setting up the National Anti-Microbial Resistance Research and Surveillance Network (AMRRSN) to enable compilation of data of such resistance at different levels of healthcare and publishing of treatment guidelines for anti-microbial use in common syndromes, the problem of multi-drug resistance due to widespread and indiscriminate use of antimicrobial and antibiotic drugs continues unabated in the country.
What is Anti-Microbial Resistance (AMR)?
- Antimicrobial resistance is the ability of a microorganism like bacteria, viruses and some parasites to stop an antimicrobial from working against it.
- AMR reduces the effectiveness of treatment; thus patients remain infectious for a longer time, increasing the risk of spreading resistant microorganisms to others.
- Resultantly, standard treatments become ineffective, infections persist and may spread to others.
- Microbes resistant to multiple antimicrobials are called multidrug resistant (MDR) or sometimes ‘superbugs’.
[Ref: The Hindu]
Government to bear MDR charges on digital transactions up to Rs 2,000
In a major push towards making India a less-cash economy, the Union Cabinet decided to bear the merchant discount rate (MDR) applicable on digital payments up to Rs2,000 made through debit cards, BHIM UPI or Aadhaar-enabled payment systems (AePS).
- A value of Rs2,000 will be borne by the government for a period of two years with effect from 1 January.
- According to recent RBI notification, from January 1 2018, small merchants (turnover upto Rs.20 lakh) will pay a maximum MDR of 0.40% of bill value and larger merchants (turnover greater than Rs.20 lakh) will shell out 0.90%.
- RBI has also set monetary cap at Rs.200 per bill for small merchants and Rs.1,000 for large ones.
- As per RBI rules, merchant has to pay MDR out of his own pocket and cannot pass it on to the customer.
Significance of this relaxation:
- As a result of this approval, consumer and merchant will not suffer any additional burden in form of MDR thereby leading to greater adoption of digital payment modes for such transactions.
- It will help to move towards less cash economy, since such transactions account for sizeable percentage of transaction volume.
What is merchant discount rate (MDR)?
MDR is the charge paid by a merchant to a bank for accepting payment from customers via credit or debit cards. It is expressed as a percentage of the transaction amount.
- In India, the RBI specifies maximum MDR charges that can be levied on every card transaction.
Wrong usages of MDR:
- Sometimes, merchants charging even more than the MDR, thereby gaining extra money than the price or the bill presented to the client. It can be reasonably argued that this is defrauding the customer and is illegal and should be prohibited.
Customer pays more without being known:
- In the case of petrol pump outlets, at the time of payment, the customer pays only the cost of the fuel and no additional fees are added to the transaction. However, on receiving the statement of the card, it can be seen that the amount charged for the transaction at the petrol pump is more than the amount swiped for. The additional amount is the surcharge or MDR which is added to the total transaction value and is charged to the customer. This is unfortunate as the customer does not know that he will be paying the extra charge.
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
Biodiversity under alien attack
The Zoological Survey of India (ZSI) has for the first time compiled a list of alien invasive animal species, totalling 157.
- Of the 157 species, 58 are found on land and in freshwater habitats, while 99 are in the marine ecosystem.
- This compilation was announced on the sidelines of the National Conference on the Status of Invasive Alien Species in India, organised by the ZSI and the Botanical Survey of India (BSI).
What are Invasive Alien Species (IAS)?
Alien species is a species introduced by humans – either intentionally or accidentally – outside their natural areas, where they out-compete the native species and upset the ecological balance.
Few examples of invasive alien species:
- Paracoccus marginatus (Papaya Mealy Bug), which belongs to Mexico and Central America but is believed to have destroyed huge crops of papaya in Assam, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu.
- Phenacoccus solenopsis (Cotton Mealybug) is a native of North America but has severely affected cotton crops in the Deccan.
- Pterygoplichthys pardalis (Amazon sailfin catfish) has been destroying fish populations in the wetlands of Kolkata.
- Achatina fulica (African apple snail) is said to be most invasive among all alien fauna. It is a mollusc and was first reported in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. But today it is found all across the country and is threatening the habitats of several native species.
Impacts on biodiversity
- Invasive alien species are a major driver of biodiversity loss. In fact, an analysis of the IUCN Red List shows that they are the second most common threat associated with species that have gone completely extinct, and are the most common threat associated with extinctions of amphibians, reptiles and mammals.
- Invasive alien species can also lead to changes in the structure and composition of ecosystems leading to significant detrimental impacts to ecosystem services, affecting economies and human wellbeing.
- Invasive alien species have invaded and affected native biota in almost every ecosystem type on Earth, and have affected all major taxonomic groups.
Impacts on economy:
- In economic terms, the costs of invasive alien species are significant.
- Total annual costs, including losses to crops, pastures and forests, as well as environmental damages and control costs, have been conservatively estimated to be in the hundreds of billions of dollars and possibly more than one trillion.
- This does not include valuation of species extinctions, losses in biodiversity, ecosystem services and aesthetics.
What is being done?
- In 2010, almost all of the world’s governments adopted the Convention on Biological Diversity Strategic Plan for Biodiversity, which included 20 headline ‘targets’ referred to as the Aichi Targets. One of these targets (#9) is specifically related to IAS.
- “Target 9: By 2020, invasive alien species and pathways are identified and prioritized, priority species are controlled or eradicated and measures are in place to manage pathways to prevent their introduction and establishment”.
- This international commitment to addressing IAS was re-affirmed in 2015 through the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development which includes 17 goals (SDGs) each with specific targets. The SDGs have nature woven throughout acknowledging that nature is fundamental to human well-being. One of the SDGs #15 Life on land, has a target focusing specifically on IAS.
- “By 2020, introduce measures to prevent the introduction and significantly reduce the impact of invasive alien species on land and water ecosystems and control or eradicate the priority species”.
What needs to be done?
Invasive alien species (IAS) are a global issue that requires international cooperation and actions.
- Preventing international movement of IAS and rapid detection at borders are less costly than control and eradication.
- Preventing the entry of IAS is carried out through inspections of international shipments, customs checks and proper quarantine regulations.
- Prevention requires collaboration among governments, economic sectors and non-governmental and international organizations.
NDMA to conduct Training of Trainers for Sendai Framework
National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) is conducting the first national-level Training of Trainers programme to sensitise various Central Ministries and Departments on utilisation of Sendai Monitor for developing action plans for Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR).
- The programme is being organised by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) in collaboration with the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction-Global Education and Training Institute (UNISDR-GETI).
Significance of this training:
- This training programme will build the capacity of the participants to utilise defined indicators to monitor the progress of the Sendai targets.
- Training modules at the programme will also enable them to lead consultations and train others on the monitoring of the Sendai Framework Targets.
- In June 2016, India became one of the first countries to align its National Disaster Management Plan (NDMP) with the SFDRR, which clearly identifies regional, national and local targets along with short, medium and long-term timelines.
- Various activities are being undertaken across the country to achieve the targets identified in the SFDRR.
About Sendai Framework:
The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (2015-2030) is an international Treaty which was adopted during the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (WCDRR) held in Sendai, Japan in March, 2015.
- It is the successor agreement to the Hyogo Framework for Action (2005–2015), which had been the most encompassing international accord to date on disaster risk reduction.
- It is the first major agreement of the post-2015 development agenda, with seven targets and four priorities for action.
- The Framework is for 15-year.
- It is a voluntary and non-binding agreement which recognizes that the State has the primary role to reduce disaster risk but that responsibility should be shared with other stakeholders including local government, the private sector and other stakeholders.
- The implementation of the Sendai Framework involves adopting integrated and inclusive institutional measures so as to work towards preventing vulnerability to disaster, increase preparedness for response and recovery and strengthen resilience.
Priorities for action:
The Sendai Framework sets four specific priorities for action:
- Understanding disaster risk;
- Strengthening disaster risk governance to manage disaster risk;
- Investing in disaster risk reduction for resilience;
- Enhancing disaster preparedness for effective response, and to “Build Back Better” in recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction.
The Seven Global Targets:
To support the assessment of global progress in achieving the outcome and goal of the Sendai Framework, seven global targets have been agreed:
- Substantially reduce global disaster mortality by 2030, aiming to lower average per 100,000 global mortality rate in the decade 2020-2030 compared to the period 2005-2015.
- Substantially reduce the number of affected people globally by 2030, aiming to lower average global figure per 100,000 in the decade 2020 -2030 compared to the period 2005-2015.
- Reduce direct disaster economic loss in relation to global gross domestic product (GDP) by 2030.
- Substantially reduce disaster damage to critical infrastructure and disruption of basic services, among them health and educational facilities, including through developing their resilience by 2030.
- Substantially increase the number of countries with national and local disaster risk reduction strategies by 2020.
- Substantially enhance international cooperation to developing countries through adequate and sustainable support to complement their national actions for implementation of this Framework by 2030.
- Substantially increase the availability of and access to multi-hazard early warning systems and disaster risk information and assessments to the people by 2030.
The UN General Assembly adopted the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction in December 1999 and established United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR), the secretariat to ensure its implementation.
- UNISDR is part of the United Nations Secretariat. Its headquarters is in Geneva, Switzerland.
- Its mandate was expanded in 2001 to serve as the focal point in the United Nations system to ensure coordination and synergies among disaster risk reduction activities of the United Nations system and regional organizations and activities in socio-economic and humanitarian fields.
- As the UN office for disaster risk reduction, UNISDR supports the implementation, follow-up and review of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030.
- Its core areas of work includes ensuring disaster risk reduction (DRR) is applied to climate change adaptation, increasing investments for DRR, building disaster-resilient cities, schools and hospitals, and strengthening the international system for DRR.
- UNISDR leads the preparation and follow-up of the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction established in 2006.
Defence & Security Issues
Soviet-era MI-8 ‘Pratap’ helicopter of Indian Air Force phased out
The Soviet-era MI-8, also known as ‘Pratap’, the backbone of the Indian Air Force helicopter operations, was recently phased out, bringing an end to its glorious service career spanning 45 years.
About MI-8 ‘Pratap’ helicopter:
- Formally inducted in 1972 and rechristened as “Pratap”, MI-8 took part in several major IAF operations, including Operation Meghdoot in the Siachen Glacier and the Indian Peace Keeping Force operation in Sri Lanka.
- The helicopter, inducted in 10 operational helicopter units, was also extensively used in Humanitarian and Disaster Relief operations, besides being associated with VIP/VVIP flying.
Science & Technology
NASA and Google discover exoplanet Kepler-90i in ‘second solar system’
Scientists at NASA has discovered eighth planet circling Kepler-90, a Sun-like star which is 2545 light-years far from Earth. It was dubbed as Kepler-90i.
- The eight planet was discovered by applying Google’s machine-learning technology to data collected by NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope.
- The findings also establish the growing role that neural networks and other machine learning techniques could play in the hunt for more elusive planets outside our own solar neighbourhood.
Significance of this discovery:
- With eight planets, Kepler-90 system equals our own solar system in terms of number of planets orbiting single star. Astronomers are yet to detect a system with more than eight planets. Kepler-90 star system is like a mini version of our solar system.
Key facts about Kepler-90i:
- Kepler-90i is outermost and eighth planet in Kepler-90h system.
- It is around 30% larger than Earth.
- It is roughly the same distance from its star as Earth is from Sun.
- It orbits its star once every 14.4 days.
- It is thought to have an average surface temperature of 425 degrees Celsius.
What is Machine learning?
- Machine learning is an application of artificial intelligence (AI) that provides systems the ability to automatically learn and improve from experience without being explicitly programmed. Machine learning focuses on the development of computer programs that can access data and use it learn for themselves.
Use of Machine learning in this discovery:
- In this case of planetary exploration, machine-learning approach was based on networks of neurons that populate human brain. The computers have learned to identify planets by finding instances of light readings recorded in Kepler data where telescope recorded signals from exoplanets, planets beyond our solar system. The light readings were tiny changes in brightness captured when a planet passes in front of a star.
What is Deep learning?
Deep learning is a machine learning technique that teaches computers to do what comes naturally to humans: learn by example.
- In deep learning, a computer model learns to perform classification tasks directly from images, text, or sound.
- Deep learning models can achieve state-of-the-art accuracy, sometimes exceeding human-level performance.
- Models are trained by using a large set of labelled data and neural network architectures that contain many layers.
- Most deep learning methods use neural network architectures, which is why deep learning models are often referred to as deep neural networks.
Applications of Deep learning:
Deep learning is getting lots of attention lately and for good reason. It’s achieving results that were not possible before.
- Deep learning is a key technology behind driverless cars, enabling them to recognize a stop sign, or to distinguish a pedestrian from a lamppost.
- It is the key to voice control in consumer devices like phones, tablets, TVs, and hands-free speakers.
Difference Between Machine Learning and Deep Learning:
- Deep learning is a specialized form of machine learning. A machine learning workflow starts with relevant features being manually extracted from images. The features are then used to create a model that categorizes the objects in the image. With a deep learning workflow, relevant features are automatically extracted from images. In addition, deep learning performs “end-to-end learning” – where a network is given raw data and a task to perform, such as classification, and it learns how to do this automatically.
- Another key difference is deep learning algorithms scale with data, whereas shallow learning converges. Shallow learning refers to machine learning methods that plateau at a certain level of performance when you add more examples and training data to the network.
- A key advantage of deep learning networks is that they often continue to improve as the size of your data increases.
Key Facts for Prelims
‘NYAYA GRAM’ Project of High Court of Allahabad
- The President of India, Shri Ram Nath Kovind, laid the foundation stone of the Nyaya Gram project of the High Court of Allahabad.
What is Nyaya Gram project?
- Nyaya Gram will be a model township situated at Devghat, Jhalwa, and house a judicial academy and an auditorium with state-of-the-art facilities.
Gabon as polio-free
- The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared Gabon a “polio-free country”, given the lack of new reported or suspected cases in the central African country.
- However, the UN health agency has recommended taking necessary steps to continue monitoring for possible signs of the disease.
About Polio Virus:
- Polio is a highly infectious viral disease which mainly affects young children under the age of 5.
- Poliovirus is usually spread from person to person. It mainly spreads through the faecal-oral route (e.g. contaminated water or food).
- After entering body, it multiplies in the intestine, from where it can invade the nervous system and can cause paralysis.
- Cases of polio have decreased by 99% since 1988, when polio was endemic in 125 countries and 350 000 cases were recorded worldwide.
- Now the disease is endemic only in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the WHO recorded four cases this year — two in each country. Last year, there were 37 cases globally.
Location of Gabon:
Located on the equator, Gabon is bordered by Equatorial Guinea to the northwest, Cameroon to the north, the Republic of the Congo on the east and south, and the Gulf of Guinea to the west.