Current Affairs Analysis

19th March 2020 Current Affairs Analysis – IASToppers

WTO’s dispute settlement mechanism;RBI releases new guidelines for payment aggregators; Fast track work on ODF+ and ODF++; ODF+ and ODF++ scheme; India not obligated to implement WTO's dispute panel recommendations; Formulation of scheme for Rehabilitation of Beggars; National Backward Classes Finance & Development Corporation; Herd immunity; Contact tracing; Kerala’s temples cut down celebrations; Palkulangara Devi Temple; RBI to infuse ₹10,000 crores via OMO; Open market operations; Regulatory bodies to cover traditional medicine; India’s merchandise exports; Flexi-fare scheme; GreenCo rating system; Abel prize; Biosecurity emergency
By IASToppers
March 19, 2020

Contents

Government Schemes & Policies

  • Fast track work on ODF+ and ODF++
  • Formulation of scheme for Rehabilitation of Beggars
  • Regulatory bodies to cover traditional medicine

Issues related to Health & Education

  • Herd immunity
  • Contact tracing

Economy

  • RBI releases new guidelines for payment aggregators
  • India not obligated to implement WTO’s dispute panel recommendations
  • RBI to infuse ₹10,000 crores via OMO

Art & Culture

  • Kerala’s temples cut down celebrations

Key Facts for Prelims

  • India’s merchandise exports
  • Flexi-fare scheme
  • GreenCo rating system
  • Abel prize
  • Biosecurity emergency

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Government Schemes & Policies

Fast track work on ODF+ and ODF++

As per the recent report by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Urban Development in Lok Sabha, the progress of work on Open Defecation-Free Plus (ODF+) and ODF++ under Phase 2 of the Swachh Bharat Mission (Urban) has been slow.

Major Highlights:

  • Despite the fact that work on three protocols under the next phase of Swachh Bharat Mission (Urban-2) — ODF+, ODF++ and Water Plus is to be completed by 2024, the ground situation was not matching with the assigned timeline.
  • Less than 30% of cities certified as ODF+ under Phase 2 of the Swachh Bharat Mission (Urban-2).
  • Out of 4,320 cities declared ODF, as low as 1,276 cities have been certified as ODF+.
  • The number of ODF++ cities — 411 — means that less than 10 % cities are certified as ODF++ so far.
  • Additional funds will be required to sustain the ODF status and ensure complete fecal sludge management.
  • The funds for Swachh Bharat Mission Urban have been reduced by Rs 350 crore to Rs 2,300 crore in the budget 2020-21.

Development so far:

  • Under Phase 1 of the Swachh Bharat Mission (U), 99 % of the cities became ODF, the Union Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) had claimed in December 2019.
  • Under this, close to 65.81 lakh individual household toilets had been constructed against the targeted 59 lakh and 5.89 lakh seats of community / public toilets were constructed against the target of 5.08 lakh seats.
  • The states are targeting to make all their cities ODF++ by 2024, by putting in place infrastructure such as toilets, their maintenance, and fecal sludge management systems.

ODF+ and ODF++ scheme:

  • Sustaining and maintaining the toilets built under the flagship initiative was important.
  • ODF+ and ODF++ were launched in August 2018 to further scale up and sustain the work undertaken by the cities after achieving the ODF status under Phase I of the Swachh Bharat Mission — Urban (SBM-Urban).
  • According to MoHUA, the cities that had been certified ODF at least once, on the basis of the ODF protocols, are eligible to declare themselves as SBM-ODF+ & SBM-ODF++. 

Aim:

  • ODF+ and ODF++ are aimed towards proper maintenance of toilet facilities and safe collection, conveyance, treatment/disposal of all fecal sludge and sewage.
  • While ODF+ focuses on toilets with water, maintenance and hygiene, ODF++ focuses on toilets with sludge management.

Water Plus:

  • Announced in August 2019, Water Plus aims to sustain toilets by treating and reuse of water.
  • It contributes to the government’s focus on water conversation and reuse under the Jal Shakti Abhiyan and is in alignment with United Nations-mandated Sustainable Development Goal No 6 on clean water and sanitation.
  • The goal calls for ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.
[Ref: Down to Earth]

Formulation of scheme for Rehabilitation of Beggars

The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment has proposed to restructure and formulate a scheme for Comprehensive Rehabilitation of Beggars.

Highlights:

  • It will be a comprehensive scheme for persons engaged in the act of begging.
  • The scheme will cover identification, rehabilitation, provision of medical facilities, counselling, education, skill development with the support of State Governments, Local Urban Bodies and Voluntary Organizations.
  • The scheme will be implemented in the selected cities having large concentration of Beggar community during the financial year 2020-2021.
  • The government is working in a mission mode with complete commitment to ‘Har Ek Kaam, Desh Ke Naam’.

Implementation:

  • Pilot project of this scheme will be initiated during Financial Year 2019-20 subject to submission of city specific Action Plan by the State Governments.
  • 100% Assistance under the Scheme shall be provided to the States/UTs for its implementation.
  • During the year 2019-20, this Ministry has released an amount of Rs. One Crore to National Institute of Social Defence (NISD) and Rs. 70.00 Lakh to National Backward Classes Finance & Development Corporation (NBCFDC) for skill development programmes for beggars.

Induction:

  • The Corporation has so far conducted skill development training programme for 400 members of beggar’s community in Warehouse Packer, Hand-rolled Agarbatti making, Hand Embroiderer and other self-employment skill development training programmes.

National Backward Classes Finance & Development Corporation:

  • NBCFDC was incorporated 13 January 1992 as a non-profit company under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Government of India to improve and develop the economic activities for the members of Backward Classes who are living below double the poverty line.
  • The Corporation can assist loan for their self-employment ventures in the sectors like agriculture, transport and service etc.
  • NBCFDC also provides Micro Financing through SCAs/ Self Help Groups (SHGs).
  • The Corporation can assist a wide range of income generating activities to assist the poorer section of these classes in skill development and self-employment ventures.
[Ref: AIR, PIB]

Regulatory bodies to cover traditional medicine

The Rajya Sabha passed two Bills recently for setting up separate commissions for homoeopathy and other traditional systems of medicine.

Proposed commissions:

  • The National Commission for Homeopathy will replace the existing regulator — Central Council of Homoeopathy.
  • The National Commission for Indian System of Medicine (covering Ayurveda, Unani, Siddha and the Tibetan system of medicine) will come in place of the Central Council for Indian medicine.

Rationale:

  • Aside from setting up the new bodies, the two legislations aim to ensure availability of quality medical professionals of Indian systems of medicine and homoeopathy and also the adoption of the latest research in traditional medicine.

 [Ref: Indian Express]

Issues related to Health & Education

Herd immunity

UK has retracted under criticism after suggesting it would allow COVID-19 to pass through the population so that a ‘herd community’ could be achieved.

What is herd immunity:

  • Herd immunity refers to preventing an infectious disease from spreading by immunizing a certain percentage of the population.
  • While the concept is most commonly used in the context of vaccination, herd community can also be achieved after enough people have become immune after being infected.
  • The premise is that if a certain percentage of the population is immune, members of that group can no longer infect another person.
  • This breaks the chain of infection through the community, and prevents it from reaching those who are the most vulnerable.
  • The UK government had wanted the entire population to be exposed to the novel coronavirus infection, so that the majority could develop immunity to COVID-19.

Mechanism:

  • The scientific principle is that the presence of a large number of immune persons in the community, who will interrupt the transmission, provides indirect protection to those who are not immune.
  • To estimate the extent of spread and immunity, epidemiologists use a measure called the ‘basic reproductive number’ (R0).
  • This indicates how many persons will be infected when exposed to a single case; an R0 of more than 1 indicates one person can spread the infection to multiple persons.
  • Scientific evidence shows that a person with measles can infect around 12-18 persons; and a person with influenza can infect around 1.2-4.5 persons, depending on the season.
  • On the basis of the available evidence from China, and according to various experts, R0 COVID-19 ranges between 2 and 3.

How to know a population has achieved herd immunity?

  • It depends on multiple factors: How effective the vaccine for a given disease is, how long-lasting immunity is from both vaccination and infection, and which populations form critical links in transmission of the disease.
  • Mathematically, it is defined on the basis of a number called “herd immunity threshold”, which is the number of immune individuals above which a disease may no longer circulate.
  • The higher the R0, the higher the percentage of the population that has to be immunized to achieve herd immunity.
  • Polio has a threshold of 80% to 85%, while measles has 95%.
  • With the current data for COVID-19, experts have estimated a threshold of over 60%.
  • That means more than 60% of the population needs to develop immunity to reach the stage of herd immunity.

Why herd immunity as a strategy against COVID-19 questionable?

  • It is very risky to seek herd immunity by allowing a large proportion of the population to get infected as the outbreak has many unknowns and variables.
  • The behaviour of the pathogen is still unclear and there is lack of data to estimate conclusively how many persons can get the virus from a single infected person.
  • It can take months, or even longer, to build group immunity to COVID-19.
  • The people who survive may develop immunity or may be not as we still don’t know whether one can become immune to the virus.

 [Ref: Indian Express]

Contact tracing

Contact tracing is the process of identifying, assessing, and managing people who have been exposed to a disease to prevent transmission.

ICMR guidelines:

  • As per Indian Council of Medical Research guidelines, which are also directions that have sound public health sense behind them, people who may have been exposed to the virus are to be followed for 28 days from the date of the probable last exposure/arrival from affected countries.
  • Any person who has had contact with the index patient under investigation/treatment for suspected, probable or confirmed case of SARS-COV-2, should be monitored for the appearance of symptoms.

Who is a contact?

  • Anyone who provided care for the suspect or confirmed case, including a health care worker (including those involved in cleaning, waste management, laboratory technicians, doctors) or family member, or anyone who had close physical contact; anyone who stayed at the same place (lived with, or visited) while the index patient was symptomatic.
  • If symptoms appear within the first 28 days following the contact, the individual should be considered a ‘probable’ case and reported through the Integrated Diseases Surveillance Programme network to the National Centre for Disease Control.

Tracing contacts:

  • As soon as the single event (confirmed SARS-CoV-2) is detected, contact tracing must be aggressively implemented, and preferably to be completed within 48 hours.
  • The contact tracing shall preferably be done by visiting the local residence of the contact(s) by a member of the health services team.
  • On meeting the ‘contact person’, the visiting health worker should explain the purpose of contact tracing and collect data in a prescribed format.
  • It is important to identify the social networks of the first patient and travel history during the 28 days after the onset of illness.
  • Contacts should be traced and monitored for at least 28 days after the last exposure to the case patient for evidence of COVID-19 symptoms to emerge.

Symptomatic contacts:

  • Persons who have fever and cough and a history of contact with a confirmed case within the last 28 days should be referred for isolation for strict infection control.
  • Samples must be collected and sent to the designated laboratory for testing, and appropriate medical management must begin.
  • If contacts show symptoms, they may be isolated at a health care facility or at home until the results come in.
  • Once confirmed as positive for SARS-CoV-2, they must be shifted to a proper health facility.

 [Ref: The Hindu]

Economy

RBI releases new guidelines for payment aggregators

The Reserve Bank of India has reduced the capital requirements for payment aggregators to Rs 15 crore at the time of application for the license from Rs 100 crore it had proposed earlier.

What is the move?

  • In the recent regulatory note released by RBI, the central bank said that applicants need to have Rs 15 crore of net worth, which needs to be increased to Rs 25 crore within three years of operations.
  • Existing non-bank entities offering payment aggregation (PA) services shall apply for authorization on or before June 30, 2021.
  • The pure-play payment gateway companies would be separated as an entity and would be identified as technology service providers for banks and non-banks.
  • The guidelines have been aimed at payment aggregators only.
  • These are players who integrate with ecommerce companies and connect them with banks. They receive payments on behalf of these companies and transfer the money to their accounts.
  • PAs have also been asked to adhere to strict security guidelines, adhere to all KYC (Know Your Customer) and AML (Anti Money Laundering) rules.
  • The guidelines have mandated that PAs need to check their merchant customers are not involved in selling of prohibited or fake items.
  • The PAs have been asked to set up designated nodal offices to deal with customer grievance.

Need:

  • Entities like Billdesk, CCAvenue, Firstdata, Techprocess were the original players in this space.
  • Then came the wave of startups who transformed the gateway business altogether.
  • Players like Razorpay, Cashfree, Paytm Payment Gateway and others started offering payment services to ecommerce companies.
  • Given the largescale adoption of digital payments and emergence of so many players, the RBI expressed interest in regulating the space.

Significance:

  • This gave a major relief for the payments industry as Rs 100 crore for the business was too big and could force many smaller payment companies to move out of this aggregation business.
  • Also the time given is enough for players to prepare well and apply.

 [Ref: Money Control]

India not obligated to implement WTO’s dispute panel recommendations

As per the reply of Commerce and Industry Minister in Lok Sabha, India is under no obligation to implement the recommendations of the WTO’s dispute panel on its export promotion schemes.

What is the issue?

  • A dispute settlement panel of World Trade Organization (WTO) in its report issued to members on 31 October 2019 has ruled that India’s export-related schemes (including SEZ scheme) are in the nature of prohibited subsidies under the Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures and are inconsistent with WTO norms.
  • The panel had given a time-frame of 180 days for withdrawal of Special Economic Zone (SEZ) scheme.
  • India had appealed at the WTO’s appellate body against this ruling.
  • But due to non-functioning of appellate body (of the WTO’s dispute settle mechanism), the appeal has been kept in suspension.
  • Till the appeal is disposed of, India is under no obligation to implement the recommendations of panel.

WTO’s dispute settlement mechanism:

  • The Appellate Body of the World Trade Organization set up in 1995, is a standing body of 7 persons that hears appeals from reports issued by panels in disputes brought on by WTO members.
  • A dispute arises when a member government believes another member government is violating an agreement or a commitment that it has made in the WTO.
  • By joining the WTO, member countries have agreed that if they believe fellow members are in violation of trade rules, they will use the multilateral system of settling disputes instead of taking action unilaterally.

Current Scenario:

  • The dispute settlement mechanism requires at least three members to function.
  • The United States has blocked the appointments of new members and the reappointments of members who had completed their four-year tenures, the membership of the body has decreased to three persons (instead of the required seven).
  • The US believes the WTO is biased against it, and has criticized it for being unfair.
  • In 2019, several developing countries met in India to discuss ways to prevent the WTO’s dispute resolution system from collapsing all together.
  • India is involved in 15 trade disputes, mostly against the US, at the WTO at present.
[Ref: Economic Times, Indian Express]

RBI to infuse ₹10,000 crores via OMO

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has decided to infuse ₹10,000 crore liquidity in the banking system by buying government securities through open market operations (OMO).

What is the move?

  • The central bank will conduct open market operations on March 20, 2020 to purchase ₹10,000 crore of government securities through a multi-security auction using the multiple price method.
  • With the heightening of COVID-19 pandemic risks, certain financial market segments have been experiencing a tightening of financial conditions as reflected in the hardening of yields and widening of spreads.
  • It is important to ensure that all market segments remain liquid and stable, and function normally.
  • There is a heightened volatility in the financial markets due to the spread of the COVID-19.

Open market operations:

  • Open market operations are the sale and purchase of government securities and treasury bills by RBI or the central bank of the country.

Objective:

The objective of OMO is to regulate the money supply in the economy.

Procedure:

  • When the RBI wants to increase the money supply in the economy, it purchases the government securities from the market.
  • RBI sells government securities to suck out liquidity from the system.
  • RBI carries out the OMO through commercial banks and does not directly deal with the public.
  • OMO is one of the tools that RBI uses to smoothen the liquidity conditions through the year and minimize its impact on the interest rate and inflation rate levels.

 [Ref: The Hindu, Economic Times]

Art & Culture

Kerala’s temples cut down celebrations

The Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB), which manages about 1,200 temples has issued a circular to the temple advisory committees to suspend all cultural programmes and mass feasts amid COVID-19 threat.

Palkulangara Devi Temple:

  • Palkulangara Devi Temple is a Hindu temple in Palkulangara, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, India.
  • The temple is an excellent example of Kerala Vasthu Vidya.
  • It is an abode of Sree Palkulangara Devi and one of the most ancient temples in Kerala, which preserves the beauty and atmosphere gifted by nature.
[Ref: The Hindu]

Key Facts for Prelims

India’s merchandise exports

India’s merchandise exports have increased by 8.75 % (from 303.5 US$ billion in 2017-18 to 330 US$ billion in 2018-19).

Notifiable increases/decreases:

  • Petroleum Products – 24% increase
  • Plastic and Linoleum – 25% Increase
  • Oil Meals – 38% increase
  • Other Cereals   – 40% increase
  • Cashew – 29% decrease
  • Coffee – 15 % decrease

Flexi-fare scheme

  • Flexi-fare scheme was introduced by the Indian Railways in 2016 for the 142 premium trains such as Shatabdi.
  • Under this dynamic pricing system, the base fare increases by 10% with every 10% of berths sold, with a limit set at 1.5 times the original price.

GreenCo rating system

  • GreenCo rating system was developed by Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) to evaluate the companies on 10 broad green parameters from greenhouse gas emission, water, renewable energy use, products and supply chain.
  • The evaluation process rates the degree of environmental performance of the company. This rating is valid for three years.

Abel Prize 

  • The Abel Prize for Mathematics was awarded to two probability experts.
  • The Abel Prize was established by the Norwegian government in 2002 on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of Niels Henrik Abel’s (a Norwegian mathematician) birth. The Abel Prize recognizes contributions to the field of mathematics that are of extraordinary depth and influence.

Biosecurity emergency

  • A human biosecurity emergency has been declared in Australia.
  • The formal declaration gives the government the power to close off cities or regions, impose curfews and order people to quarantine, if deemed necessary to contain the spread of the virus.
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