Government Schemes & Policies
- B Sesikeran Committee sets up to look into draft labelling regulations
- Home Ministry relaxes terms in Bru deal
Issues related to Health & Education
- Health insurance: Mental illness to be treated on par with physical ailment
- NABARD All India Rural Financial Inclusion Survey 2016-17
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
- India bans pet coke import for use as fuel
- Telangana Govt launches Disaster Response Force vehicles
Defence & Security Issues
- U.S. tech giants plan to fight India’s data localisation plans
Science & Technology
- A new, robust form of gold developed
- India joins International Consortium of Scientists to decode the complex Wheat Genome
Key Facts for Prelims
- Exercise Pitch Black 2018.
- ATGM HELINA
- ‘Panini Language Laboratory’ inaugurated
- Exercise Maitree 2018
- Bhaskar Ramamurthy Committee
- 19 August: World Humanitarian Day
- August 20: World Mosquito Day
- Barak 8
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Government Schemes & Policies
B Sesikeran Committee sets up to look into draft labelling regulations
The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) constituted a group of experts from health and nutrition sector to look into the issue of food labelling.
- The three-member expert panel will be headed by B Sesikeran, former director of National Institute of Nutrition (NIN).
- In April 2018, the FSSAI had come out with the draft of ‘Food Safety and Standards (Labelling and Display) Regulations, 2018’ that propose mandatory red-label marking on packaged food products containing high levels of fat, sugar and salt.
- However, for now, the government has put on hold these draft regulations following the concerns raised by stakeholders.
Draft provisions of Food Safety and Standards (Labelling and Display) Regulations, 2018:
- The draft regulations suggest for mandatory declaration by packaged food manufacturers about nutritional information such as calories, total fat, trans fat, sugar and salt per serve on the front of the pack.
- The proposed regulations prescribed the labelling requirements of pre-packaged foods and display of essential information on premises where food is manufactured, processed, served and stored
- The draft Regulation also states that HFSS (high in fat, sugar or salt) food products shall not be advertised to children in any form.
- The draft pitches for a colour code, proposes that the high fats such as sugar and salt, trans-fat and sodium content should be coloured as ‘red’, if the value of energy from total sugar or fat is more than 10 percent of the total energy in the 100 grams or 100 ml of the product.
- The colour coding will make it easier for consumers to know about the nutritional value of food products and will help them make choices as per their requirements.
- Under the proposed regulations, all food products having total Genetically Engineered (GE) ingredients 5% or more shall be labelled.
- The nutritional information should also be provided in the form of bar code.
Home Ministry relaxes terms in Bru deal
The Union Home Ministry has agreed to relax conditions laid down in the ‘four-corner agreement’ signed with Bru migrants for their repatriation from Tripura to Mizoram.
- The agreement was signed between Government of India, Governments of Mizoram and Tripura and Mizoram Bru Displaced People’s Forum (MBDPF) in July 2018.
Provisions of agreement
- Under the agreement, the central government will provide financial assistance for rehabilitation of Bru community members in Mizoram and address their issues of security, education, livelihood, etc. in consultation with the governments of Mizoram and Tripura.
- According to the agreement, the Mizoram government would ensure security for all repatriated refugees who were identified and verified as per the 1997 electoral rolls of Mizoram.
- These families who moved to Mizoram from Tripura will be given one-time financial assistance of Rs 4 lakh to be kept as fixed deposit in name of head of family. This cash assistance will be to be provided only after three years of uninterrupted stay in Mizoram.
- The agreement also provides for free ration for two years and a monthly assistance of Rs 5,000 for each family.
- The agreement covers 5,407 Bru families (32876 persons) presently staying in temporary camps in Tripura to repatriate them to Mizoram before September 30, 2018.
- Moreover, house building assistance of Rs 1.5 lakh will be also disbursed to these families in three instalments.
- Identity documents such as ration cards and Aadhaar will be issued by Tripura government.
- The relaxation in few terms of agreement comes after leaders of MBDPF who had signed agreement were forced to pull out of deal after signing it due to strong protests by Bru community in Tripura against certain terms of the deal.
- The period of stay for cash assistance of Rs 4 lakh for Bru refugees will be relaxed from three years to two (or even one and half years). They can withdraw 90% of the Rs 4 lakh assistance as bank loan immediately after their return.
- Moreover, conditions in place for financial assistance may be also relaxed.
- The building assistance will be in single or two instalments. On relocation, at least 50 refugees will be settled in each village.
About the Bru community:
- The Brus, also referred to as the Reangs, are spread across the northeastern states of Tripura, Assam, Manipur, and Mizoram.
- A bout of ethnic violence forced thousands of people from the Bru tribe to leave their homes in Mizoram. As many as 32,876 people belonging to 5,407 families are living in the refugee camps in the Jampui Hills of Tripura.
- The displaced Bru people from Mizoram have been living in various camps in Tripura since 1997. In 1997, the murder of a Mizo forest guard at the Dampa Tiger Reserve in Mizoram’s Mamit district allegedly by Bru militants led to a violent backlash against the community, forcing several thousand people to flee to neighbouring Tripura.
- The Bru militancy was a reactionary movement against Mizo nationalist groups who had demanded in the mid-1990s that the Brus be left out of the state’s electoral rolls, contending that the tribe was not indigenous to Mizoram.
Issues related to Health & Education
Health insurance: Mental illness to be treated on par with physical ailment
Insurance regulator IRDAI has issued a circular directing insurers to cover mental illness, which has reached serious proportions in the country.
- The Mental Healthcare Act, 2017 — which came into force from May 29 — has made it mandatory to provide “for medical insurance for treatment of mental illness on the same basis as is available for treatment of physical illness”.
- But to date, none of India’s 33 insurers has introduced a product that covers ailments such as depression, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder, even though such covers are commonplace in many countries.
- Mental health conditions have always been in the list of exclusions of health insurance policies. The only exceptions to this have been the coverage of development conditions such as autism and Down’s syndrome by the National Health Insurance Scheme, and a few private schemes like Star Health Insurance’s cover for autistic children.
Significance of this move:
- The change has been long overdue. This is being seen as a progressive step.
- Bringing mental illness under medical insurance policy, will ensure life of dignity to those who have mental health issues.
- It will help to create awareness, acceptance and inclusion of mental illness as any other ailment.
- Moreover, it will bring mental health disorders at par with physical illnesses, which will normalize diagnoses, reduce associated myths and stigma related mental health disorders.
- It will be in lines with global practice, as globally, companies cover mental illness after initial waiting period of two-three years.
Mental Healthcare Act, 2017:
- IRDAI’s directive follows Mental Healthcare Act, 2017 enacted by Parliament and came into force from May 2018.
- The section 21(4) of said Act mandates every insurer to make provision for medical insurance for treatment of mental illness on same basis as available for treatment of physical illness.
- According to provisions of the Act, mental healthcare includes analysis and diagnosis of person’s mental condition and treatment as well as care and rehabilitation of such person for his mental illness or suspected mental illness.
Definition of Mental illness:
- As per Ministry of Law and Justice, mental illness is defined as substantial disorder of thinking, mood, perception, orientation or memory that grossly impairs behaviour, judgment, capacity to recognise reality or ability to meet ordinary demands of life.
- It also includes mental conditions associated with abuse of alcohol and drugs but does not include mental retardation which is condition of arrested or incomplete development of mind of person, specially characterised by subnormality of intelligence.
About the IRDAI:
The Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI) is an autonomous, statutory agencytasked with regulating and promoting the insurance and re-insurance industries in India.
- It was constituted by the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority Act, 1999, an act of Parliament passed by the government of India.
- The agency’s headquarters are in Hyderabad, Telangana, where it moved from Delhi in 2001.
- IRDAI is a 10-member body including the chairman, five full-time and four part-time members appointed by the government of India.
Functions of IRDA
- Protect the rights of insurance policy holders.
- Provide registration certification to life insurance companies
- Renew, modify, cancel or suspend this registration certificate as and when appropriate; promote efficiency in conduct of insurance business
- Promote and regulate professional organisations connected with insurance and reinsurance business; regulate investment of funds by insurance companies
- Adjudication of disputes between insurers and intermediaries or insurance intermediaries.
- In India insurance was mentioned in the writings of Manu (Manusmrithi), Yagnavalkya (Dharmasastra) and Kautilya (Arthashastra), which examined the pooling of resources for redistribution after fire, floods, epidemics and famine.
NABARD All India Rural Financial Inclusion Survey 2016-17
NABARD has released its report on All India Rural Financial Inclusion Survey 2016-17.
About the survey:
- The survey covered a sample of 1.88 lakh people from 40,327 rural households. Only 48% of these are defined as agricultural households, which have at least one member self-employed in agriculture and which received more than ₹5,000 as value of produce from agricultural activities over the past year, whether they possessed any land or not.
Highlights of the survey:
Annual income of households:
- According to the survey, the average annual income of an agricultural household is ₹1.07 lakh. That is barely ₹2,500 more than the average outstanding debt of indebted farm households.
Distribution of indebtedness:
- The southern States of Telangana (79%), Andhra Pradesh (77%), and Karnataka (74%) showed the highest levels of indebtedness among agricultural households, followed by Arunachal Pradesh (69%), Manipur (61%), Tamil Nadu (60%), Kerala (56%), and Odisha (54%).
- While all classes of farmers had debt, the highest incidence of indebtedness came from those owning more than two hectares of land. In that category, 60% of households are in debt.
- Among small and marginal farmers owning less than 0.4 hectares, slightly less than 50% of the households were in debt. Those with more land were more likely to have multiple loans.
- This may be attributed to the fact that these economically better-off households are more eligible for taking loans as they have enough assets to serve as security against the loans taken.
- More than half the agricultural households in the country have outstanding debt, and their average outstanding debt is almost as high as the average annual income of all agricultural households.
- 5% of the agricultural households had an outstanding loan on the date of the survey, and thus were considered indebted. For non-agricultural households in rural India, that figure was 10 percentage points lower, at only 42.8%.
- Agricultural households reporting any outstanding debt also had a higher debt liability compared with non-agricultural ones.
- The average debt of an indebted agricultural household stood at ₹1,04,602 in comparison to ₹76,731 for indebted non-agricultural households.
Reasons for taking loans:
- The biggest reason for taking loans among agricultural households was capital expenditure for agricultural purposes, with a quarter of all loans taken for this purpose.
- While 19% of loans were taken for meeting running expenses for agricultural purposes, another 19% were taken for sundry domestic needs. Loans for housing and medical expenses stood at 11% and 12%, respectively.
Sources of loan:
- Looking at loans taken between July 2015 and June 2016, the survey found that farm households took less than half their loans from commercial banks.
- While 46% of the loans were taken from commercial banks, and another 10% from self-help groups, almost 40% were taken from non-institutional sources such as relatives, friends, moneylenders and landlords.
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
India bans pet coke import for use as fuel
India has banned the import of pet coke for use as fuel, but has allowed shipments for use as feedstock in some industries.
Allowed for which industries?
- Import of pet coke is allowed for only cement, lime kiln, calcium carbide and gasification industries, when used as the feedstock or in the manufacturing process on actual user condition.
These industries were earlier affected by petcoke-related policy flip-flops, which began after Supreme Court judgment (October 2017) banning use its in and around New Delhi to curb pollution.
What is petcoke?
Petroleum coke is the bottom-of-the-barrel leftover from refining Canadian tar sands crude and other heavy oils.
- It is cheaper and burns hotter than coal.
- But it also contains more planet-warming carbon and far more heart- and lung-damaging sulphur.
- It is abundantly used in India in several manufacturing industries such as cement, steel and textile as it is significantly cheaper that coal, has high calorific value and is easier to transport and store.
- There are two kinds of pet coke produced viz. Fuel grade pet coke (80%) and calcined pet coke (20%) during oil refining.
- India is the world’s biggest consumer of petroleum coke, which is a dark solid carbon material that emits 11% more greenhouse gases than coal.
- Usage of pet coke, a dirtier alternative to coal, in the energy-hungry country has come under scrutiny due to rising pollution levels in major cities.
- The petcoke burned in factories and plants is contributing to dangerously filthy air in India, which already has many of the world’s most polluted cities.
- It contains 17 times more sulfur than the limit set for coal, and a staggering 1,380 times more than for diesel.
Why should the furnace oil and pet coke be banned?
- Automobile fuel — petrol and diesel — has 50 parts per million (PPM) of the highly dangerous sulphur. Comparatively, furnace oil has 15,000- 23,000 ppm sulphur and petcoke 69,000-74,000 ppm sulphur.
- They emit sulphur oxide and nitrogen oxide, which form particulate matter, tiny particles that can penetrate deep into the lungs.
- Although the DPCC had declared them as “unacceptable fuel” way back in 1996, but they are not banned outside Delhi borders and are being increasingly used by industries in the NCR, aggravating the pollution problem.
- Furnace oil being the last grade produced by refineries is extremely polluting and pet coke is even more polluting.
- Pet coke and furnace oil has been already banned in Delhi since 1996 as they have been blamed for releasing deadly sulphur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxide (NO) fumes into air and polluting air.
Telangana Govt launches Disaster Response Force vehicles
Telangana Government for the first time has launched Disaster Response Force (DRF) vehicles in the capital city of Hyderabad.
- The main aim to start this DRF is that state should have its own Disaster force to swiftly deal with emergency situations.
- The vehicles will be parked at 24 locations with Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) DRF staff and they will reach the emergency spots in no time.
- DRF personnel have been trained in tackling of flooding, tree falls, structural collapses and any other site of normal emergencies.
- DRF has been first brought on to the ground with 120 personal with 8 specialised vehicles and other equipment’s which are required.
Defence & Security Issues
U.S. tech giants plan to fight India’s data localisation plans
US technology giants plan to intensify lobbying efforts against stringent Indian data localisation requirements, which they say will undermine their growth ambitions in India.
What is the meaning of Data Localization?
- Data localization is the act of storing data on any device that is physically present within the borders of a specific country where the data was generated.
- Free flow of digital data, especially data which could impact government operations or operations in a region, is restricted by some governments.
- Many attempts to protect and promote security across borders, and therefore encourage data localization.
What’s the issue?
- S trade groups, representing companies such as Amazon, American Express and Microsoft, have opposed India’s push to store data locally.
- That push comes amid rising global efforts to protect user data but is one that could hit planned investments by the firms in the Indian market, where the companies currently have limited data storage.
Why technology giants are opposing India’s data localisation?
- Stricter localisation norms would help India get easier access to data when conducting investigations, but critics say it could lead to increased government demands for data access.
- Technology firms worry the mandate would hurt their planned investments by raising costs related to setting up new local data centres.
Indian government is in favour of data localisation. Why?
- Greater use of digital platforms in India for shopping or social networking have made it a lucrative market for technology companies, but a rising number of data breaches have pushed New Delhi to develop strong data protection rules.
- Also, minimal or deregulated governance on critical data, due to absence of localisation requirements, could be detrimental to India’s national security as data would be outside the purview of existing data protection legislation. The ineffectiveness of Mutual Legal Assistance Treaties (MLATs) in this realm aggravates such government fears.
- In addition to these, India also aspires to become a global hub for, among others, cloud computing, data hosting and international data centres, all of which are prompting the government to enact data localisation requirements for accelerating the nation’s economic growth, especially in the sphere of digital technologies.
- The extensive data collection by technology companies, due to their unfettered access and control of user data, has allowed them to freely process and monetise Indian users’ data outside the country. Thus, the rationale behind favouring data localisation has been attributed to various factors, such as securing citizen’s data, data privacy, data sovereignty, national security, and economic development of the country.
Policy goals on data localisation:
- Goals set in the Draft National Digital Communications Policy 2018, along with various government notifications and guidelines such as Reserve Bank of India’s notification on Payment Data Storage 2018, and the Guidelines for Government Departments for Contractual Terms related to Cloud Storage 2017, show signs of data localisation.
RBI’s directives on data localisation:
- Recently, RBI issued directives asking payment companies to store data locally.
- RBI argued that though restricting data flowing across borders would risk a country’s global competitiveness and economic growth, such a move would also not necessarily ensure data protection.
- Though a final decision hasn’t been made, the deliberations come while the United States and India are locked in a dispute over US tariff increases and on the Indian policy of capping prices of medical devices, which hurts American pharmaceutical companies.
The issue could further undermine already strained economic relations between India and the United States.[Ref: The Hindu]
Science & Technology
A new, robust form of gold developed
Researchers from Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research (JNCASR), Bengaluru, have developed a new type of gold in the form of very small crystals — microcystallites.
- The newly formed microcystallites, about 3 micrometre in length were found to be of a different crystal structure.
- The microcystallites were synthesised by decomposing an organic complex containing gold and other ions under controlled conditions.
- The microcrystal gold has been found to be nobler than gold — it do not dissolve in mercury and Aqua regia (a mixture of nitric acid and hydrochloric acid), and showed the least interaction with copper.
- Normal gold has a (face-centered) cubic structure, while the new ones exhibit deformed cubic structure — tetragonal and orthorhombic cells.
- Microcystallites are also more stable than the normal gold.
- All these properties make these crystallites an ideal candidate for catalytic purposes. Gold in itself is not a catalyst but the new gold microcystallites have very active surfaces.
India joins International Consortium of Scientists to decode the complex Wheat Genome
In a major scientific breakthrough, a team of international researchers, including 18 from India decoded the wheat genome, considered insurmountable so far.
- In this research, DNA sequence of bread wheat was successfully ordered and it represents highest quality genome sequence generated to date for such wheat variety.
Significance of this research:
- The research shows that bread wheat has complex hexaploid genome which is 40 times larger than that of rice genome and 5 times larger than human genome.
- The information generated will help to identify genes controlling complex agronomic traits such as yield, grain quality, resistance to diseases and pests, as well as tolerance to drought, heat, water logging and salinity.
- The availability of high quality reference genome will accelerate breeding of climate-resilient wheat varieties to feed ever-increasing world population and help address global food security in decades to come.
Key Facts for Prelims
Exercise Pitch Black 2018
- Exercise Pitch Black is biennia multinational air exercise hosted by Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). Recently it was held at RAAF Base Darwin, Australia.
- The aim of the exercise is to practice Offensive Counter Air (OCA) and Defensive Counter Air (DCA) combat, in a simulated war environment.
- The objectives of this exercise were to foster closer relationship between participating friendly forces and promote interoperability through exchange of knowledge and experience. Its aim was to expose participating nations to operational environment in international scenarios.
- The Indian Air Force for the first time participated with fighter aircraft in Exercise. In this edition of exercise, Indian Air Force (IAF) for the first time participated with air assets and in earlier exercises it had participated as observer.
- Recently, indigenously developed Helicopter launched Anti-Tank Guided Missile (ATGM) ‘HELINA’ was successfully flight tested from Indian Army Helicopter at Pokhran range.
- It is one of the most advanced Anti-Tank Weapons in the world.
- HELINA is helicopter launched version known of NAG ATGM, designed and developed indigenously for Indian Army under integrated guided missile development programme (IGMDP). It is manufactured by India’s sole missile producer, state-owned Bharat Dynamics Limited.
- It works on “fire and forget” principle and operates in Lock on Before Launch mode.
- The Missile is guided by an Infrared Imaging Seeker (IIR) operating in the Lock on Before Launch mode.
‘Panini Language Laboratory’ inaugurated
- On the sidelines of 11th World Hindi Conference held in Mauritius, Panini language laboratory was recently inaugurated at Mahatma Gandhi institute in Mauritius.
- Panini language lab aims to promote reading and writing Hindi amongst young generation and its further development.
- It will serve as medium to generate more interest in learning Hindi amongst youngsters thereby strengthening language.
- It has been established in Mauritius with support from Indian External Affairs Ministry.
Exercise Maitree 2018
- It is a joint military exercise between Indian Army and Royal Thai Army of Thailand.
- The 2018 edition of this exercise was conducted in Thailand.
- It was platoon level exercise that comprises of infantry component.
- The aim of this exercise is to build and promote closer relations while exchanging skills and experiences between the two armies.
- Last exercise was held in Himachal Pradesh’s Bakloh in 2017.
Bhaskar Ramamurthy Committee
- It is up five-member committee proposed to be set up by Union Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD) to suggest changes to JEE (Advanced) in the wake of an inadequate number of candidates qualifying entrance test this year.
- The committee will be headed by IIT-Madras director Bhaskar Ramamurthy.
- The mandate of committee is to develop robust and scientifically designed entrance exam system to test potential of candidates as well as to reduce their dependence on coaching institutes.
19 August: World Humanitarian Day
- The World Humanitarian Day (WHD) is observed every year on 19 August to recognize work of humanitarian personnel and those who have lost their lives.
- This day is observed annually by humanitarian community to ensure safety and security of humanitarian aid workers and for the survival, well-being and dignity of people affected by crisis.
- 2018 theme: #NotATarget. The theme for this year aims to draw attention towards the millions of innocent civilians affected by armed conflict every day, who are forced to flee or hide due to conflicts and wars around the world.
- The World Humanitarian Day was instituted by United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) by passing a resolution A/63/L.49 in 2008. The resolution was sponsored by Sweden and was passed by UNGA on Strengthening of Coordination of Emergency Assistance of the UN.
- The day marks death of then Special Representative of Secretary-General to Iraq, Sérgio Vieira de Mello and 21 of his colleagues who were killed in bombing of the UN Headquarters in Baghdad on August 19, 2003.
August 20: World Mosquito Day
- The World Mosquito Day is observed every year on August 20 to raise awareness about the causes of malaria.
- World Mosquito Day also marks ground breaking discovery of British doctor, Sir Ronald Ross when he had identified link between mosquitoes and malaria way back in in 1897.
- He had found that female Anopheles mosquitoes transmit malaria between humans. This discovery had laid foundations for scientists across world to better understand the deadly role of mosquitoes in disease transmission and come up with effective innovative interventions.
- Barak 8 is the next-generation surface-to-air missile (SAM) system, jointly developed by Israeli Aerospace Industries, Rafael and India’s DRDO. Bharat Dynamics Limited (BDL) produce the missiles.
- Barak missiles are designed to defend against any type of airborne threat including aircraft, helicopters, anti-ship missiles, and UAVs as well as ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and combat jets.
- Both maritime and land-based versions of the system exist.
Why in news?
- Israeli Navy has announced to procure multi-purpose Barak 8 missile defence system to expand its operational capabilities of Israeli navy, including defence of Israel’s territorial and exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and strategic facilities from diversified threats.