Current Affairs Analysis

1st April 2020 Current Affairs Analysis – IASToppers

Supreme Court upholds right to discuss COVID-19; Medical devices to be treated as Drugs; Drugs (Prices Control) Order, 2013; National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority; Taxation and other Laws (Relaxation of Certain Provisions) Ordinance, 2020; PM CARES Fund; Earth Hour 2020; Difference between Earth Hour and Earth Day; MGNREGA wages hiked; MGNREGA; Committee for COVID-19 response; Scitech Airon; NIDHI programme; NIDHI-PRAYAS; Portable UV sanitiser; Crimean-Congo Haemorrhagic Fever (CCHF); Dinacharya and Ritucharya; Special Economic Zones; Stranded in India Portal
By IASToppers
April 01, 2020

Contents

Polity & Governance

  • Medical devices to be treated as Drugs
  • Supreme Court upholds right to discuss COVID-19
  • Committee for COVID-19 response

Government Schemes and policies

  • Taxation and other Laws (Relaxation of Certain Provisions) Ordinance, 2020

Economy

  • MGNREGA wages hiked

Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management

  • Earth Hour 2020

Science and Technology

  • Scitech Airon
  • Portable UV sanitiser

Key Facts for Prelims

  • Dinacharya and Ritucharya
  • Special Economic Zones
  • Stranded in India Portal

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Polity & Governance

Medical devices to be treated as Drugs

National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority, Department of Pharmaceuticals has notified that all medical devices shall be governed under the provisions of the Drugs (Prices Control) Order, 2013 with effect from 1st April 2020.

What is the move?

  • The government is regulating 24 class of medical devices which have been notified as drugs under Drugs & Cosmetics Act, 1940 and Drugs & Cosmetics Rules, 1945. 
  • Of the above, 4 medical devices viz. (i) Cardiac Stents (ii) Drug Eluting Stents (iii) Condoms and (iv) Intra Uterine Device (Cu-T) are scheduled medical devices for which ceiling prices have been fixed.
  • The remaining non-scheduled medical devices which are notified as drugs, NPPA is currently monitoring Maximum Retail Prices.
  • Thus, with effect from 1st April, 2020, all Medical Devices shall be regulated by the Government as Drugs for quality control and price monitoring.
  • Therefore, the Maximum Retail Prices of all the Medical Devices would be monitored by the Government to ensure that no manufacturer/importer increases the MRP of a drug more than ten percent of MRP during preceding twelve months.
  • Further, with the Essential Commodities Act, 1955, the manufacturer/importer will also be liable to deposit the overcharged amount along with interest thereon from the date of increase in price in addition to penalty.

Key Features:

  • The manufacture, import and sale of all medical devices will now need to be certified by the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO).
  • Medical equipment under this definition include implantable medical devices such as knee implants, CT scan, MRI equipment, defibrillators, dialysis machine, PET equipment, X-ray machine etc.
  • The ministry earlier, through a gazette notification, had released the Medical Devices Amendment Rules, 2020, for mandatory registration of medical devices.
  • All devices, including instruments, apparatus, appliances and implants, whether used alone or in combination for various purposes like diagnosis, prevention, monitoring, treatment, alleviation of any disease, investigation, replacement or modification or support of the anatomy among others, will be regulated under the legislation.

Necessity:

  • The ministry hopes will ensure that equipments follow quality standards.
  • Besides it will also make medical device companies accountable for quality and safety of their products.
  • CDSCO will be the nodal authority to investigate complaints related to the quality and safety aspects of medical devices and can suspend the registration or cancel licences of firms.

Drugs (Prices Control) Order, 2013:

  • Drug Price Control Orders (DPCO) are issued by the Government, under Essential Commodities Act, 1955 to declare a ceiling price for essential and lifesaving medicines.
  • Under DPCO, NPPA monitors the price of medicines that are listed in National List of Essential Medicines (NLEM).
  • Thus, NLEM forms the basis of deciding which medicines should come under price control via DPCO.

National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority:

  • NPPA was constituted in 1997 under Department of Pharmaceuticals (DoP), Ministry of Chemicals & Fertilizers.
  • It acts as an independent Regulator for pricing of drugs and to ensure availability and accessibility of medicines at affordable prices.
  • The NPPA regularly publishes lists of medicines and their maximum ceiling prices.
[Ref: PIB, Live Mint]

Supreme Court upholds right to discuss COVID-19

The Supreme Court has upheld the right to free discussion about COVID-19, even as it directed the media to refer to and publish the official version of the developments in order to avoid inaccuracies and large-scale panic.

Background:

  • A SC bench, led by Chief Justice of India Sharad A. Bobde, was responding to a request from the Central government that media outlets, in the “larger interest of justice”, should only publish or telecast anything on COVID-19 after ascertaining the factual position from the government.
  • A Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) report in the court explained that “any deliberate or inaccurate” reporting by the media, particularly web portals, had a “serious and inevitable potential of causing panic in larger section of the society”.
  • The Ministry said any panic reaction in the midst of an unprecedented situation based on such reporting would harm the entire nation.
  • Creating panic is also a criminal offence under the Disaster Management Act, 2005.
  • Noting that the 21-day nationwide lockdown was “inevitable” in the face of an “unprecedented global crisis” like the COVID-19 pandemic, the government blamed “fake and misleading” messages on social media for creating widespread panic, which led to mass “barefoot” journey of migrant workers from cities to their native villages in rural India.

SC Ruling:

  • The court took a view balancing free press and the need to avoid panic in society during an unprecedented crisis.
  • We expect the media [print, electronic or social] to maintain a strong sense of responsibility and ensure that unverified news capable of causing panic is not disseminated.
  • A daily bulletin by the Government of India through all media avenues, including social media and forums to clear the doubts of people, would be made active within a period of 24 hours as submitted by the Solicitor- General of India.
  • The court does not intend to interfere with the free discussion about the pandemic, but directs the media refer to and publish the official version about the developments.
[Ref: The Hindu]

 

Committee for COVID-19 response

A Science and Technology Empowered Committee for COVID-19 response has been constituted chaired by Prof. Vinod Paul, member, NITI Aayog and Prof. K Vijay Raghavan, Principal Scientific adviser to the government.

Major Highlights:

  • The committee would coordinate among science agencies, scientists, industries and regulatory bodies.
  • The Committee will work with the Department of Science & Technology (DST), Department of Biotechnology (DBT), Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and Indian Institute for Science (IISC) to take speedy decisions on research and development keeping in view of the critical need to increase the testing facilities for COVID-19 disease.
  • The Health Ministry, in collaboration with the Ministry of Textiles, Pharmaceuticals and the States, is monitoring the requirement of personal protection equipment, masks and ventilators, factories producing essential items and is also coordinating with all the States in rigorously tracing of all contacts to ensure no cases are missed as per our containment strategy.
[Ref: The Hindu]

Government Schemes and policies

Taxation and other Laws (Relaxation of Certain Provisions) Ordinance, 2020

Amid COVID-19 outbreak, the government has brought in an Ordinance recently which provides for extension of various time limits under the Taxation and Benami Acts.

What is the move?

  • Taxation and other Laws (Relaxation of Certain Provisions) Ordinance, 2020 extended the time limit for filing of original as well as revised income-tax returns, furnishing of the Central Excise returns, etc.
  • In addition to the extension of time limits an enabling section has got inserted in the CGST Act, 2017 empowering the Government to extend due dates for various compliances inter-alia including statement of outward supplies, filing refund claims, filing appeals, etc. specified, prescribed or notified under the Act, on recommendations of the GST Council.

PM CARES Fund:

  • A special fund Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund (PM CARES FUND) has been set up for providing relief to the persons affected from the outbreak of Corona virus.
  • The Ordinance also amended the provisions of the Income-tax Act to provide the same tax treatment to PM CARES Fund as available to Prime Minister National Relief Fund.
  • Therefore, the donation made to the PM CARES Fund shall be eligible for 100% deduction under section 80G of the IT Act.
  • Further, the limit on deduction of 10% of gross income shall also not be applicable for donation made to PM CARES Fund.
[Ref: PIB]

Economy

MGNREGA wages hiked

The wage of MGNREGA workers has been hiked as a part of the COVID-19 related relief package announced by the Finance Minister.

What is the move?

  • The average per day wage rate for unskilled work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme will rise 11 per cent from ₹182 to ₹202 for the fiscal year 2020-21.
  • For 2019-20, the average wage rate was almost unchanged, with a rise of just 1.6 per cent.
  • Although the MGNREGA wage notified for 2020-21 is substantially higher, it continues to be 40-50 per cent lower than the minimum wages paid to unskilled agricultural workers.
  • The minimum wages are revised twice a year by the chief labour commissioner, when the variable dearness allowance is adjusted to changes in the consumer price index.
  • The prevailing rates for unskilled agricultural workers are between ₹347-383 per day, depending on the region of employment.

CPI-linked changes:

  • The MGNREGA wage revision is linked to the changes in the Consumer Price Index for Agricultural Workers (CPI-AL).
  • A committee set up by the government had recommended using CPI-Rural (CPI-R) instead of the existing CPI-AL for revising MGNREGA wages every year.
  • There is a big variation in the wages paid to MGNREGA workers across States.

MGNREGA:

  • MGNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) is the largest work guarantee programme in the world.
  • It was enacted in 2005 with the primary objective of guaranteeing 100 days of wage employment per year to rural households.
  • It aims at addressing causes of chronic poverty through the ‘works’ (projects) that are undertaken, and thus ensuring sustainable development.

Salient features:

  • Legal right to work: The Act provides a legal right to employment for adult members of rural households. At least one third beneficiaries have to be women.
  • Time bound guarantee of work and unemployment allowance: Employment must be provided with 15 days of being demanded failing which an ‘unemployment allowance’ must be given.
  • Coverage: All districts of the country with the exception of those that have a 100% urban population.
  • Decentralised planning: Gram sabhas must recommend the works that are to be undertaken and at least 50% of the works must be executed by them. Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) are primarily responsible for planning, implementation and monitoring of the works that are undertaken.
  • Work site facilities: All work sites should have facilities such as crèches, drinking water and first aid.
  • Social audits: Social audits are conducted by gram sabhas to enable the community to monitor the implementation of the scheme.

Funding:  

  • Funding is shared between the centre and the states. 
  • There are three major items of expenditure – wages (for unskilled, semi-skilled and skilled labour), material and administrative costs.
  • The central government bears 100% of the cost of unskilled labour, 75% of the cost of semi-skilled and skilled labour, 75% of the cost of materials and 6% of the administrative costs.
[Ref: Hindu Business Line]

Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management

Earth Hour 2020

Earth Hour is an annual tradition in which people switch off their lights to spread awareness about sustainability and climate change.

About:

  • It is celebrated annually on last Saturday of March.
  • Started by the World Wildlife Fund, it took place this year on March 31, from 8:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. local time.
  • The symbolic effort started in 2007 in Sydney, Australia, when the WWF encouraged 2.2 million people to turn off their lights for one hour to support action on climate change.
  • Since then, millions of people around the world have taken part.

Rationale:

  • It’s meant to bring together people who share one common goal: an eco-friendly future.

Necessity:

  • Global warming and climate change have dominated the scientific discourse in the past more than one decade.
  • With ever rising population of the world, the climate change has put the humankind at a great risk along with other species.
  • Global warming, rising levels of pollution due to ever increasing industrialisation, declining forest cover and rising sea levels are some of the dangers that drastically affect the workings of life on the earth.
  • Though the largest polluters are big industries, the WWF tries to make the masses more and more aware about the impending dangers of adverse climate so that they could put pressure on the respective governments to frame environment-friendly policies and laws.
  • With Earth Hour, the WWF aims to engage people across the globe to adopt more sustainable lifestyle.
  • Turning off lights for an hour is just an annual reminder that if the world does not mend its ways, it will be heading to a dark age, literally.

Difference between Earth Hour and Earth Day:

  • Whereas Earth Hour stands as a climate change initiative where people reduce their electricity usage, Earth Day (April 22) celebrates our natural environment by inspiring people to plant trees, recycle regularly and keep the planet tidy.
[Ref: The Hindu]

 Science and Technology

Scitech Airon

An air purifying technology developed by an incubatee company of the Pune-based Science and Technology Park could offer an effective solution to the country’s fight against the coronavirus COVID-19 contagion by reducing the viral load of the infected areas.

About Scitech Airon:

  • The negative ion generator titled ‘Scitech Airon’ helps to control the virus, bacteria, and other fungal infections in a closed environment and could help purify the air and disinfect areas around COVID-19 positive cases and suspects.
  • Hence it could ensure the wellbeing of the staff, doctors, and nurses who are working round the clock in quarantine facilities by enhancing their disease-resistance power and ability to fight the virus.
  • The DST has announced that it has released a sum of ₹1crore to manufacture and scale up the product titled ‘Scitech Airon’ and that 1,000 units of this new air purifier would soon be ready for installation in various hospitals across Maharashtra.
  • The technology has been developed under the ‘Nidhi Prayas’ programme initiated by the Department of Science and Technology (DST).

NIDHI programme:

  • National Initiative for Developing and Harnessing Innovations (NIDHI) is an umbrella programme of Department of Science & Technology for nurturing ideas and innovations (knowledge-based and technology-driven) into successful start-ups.

Objectives:

  • To take forward student innovations in IEDC (Innovation and Entrepreneurship Development Centres) / NewGen IEDC programme to commercialization stage.
  • To promote student startups.
  • To accelerate the journey of idea to prototype by providing initial funding assistance

NIDHI-PRAYAS:

  • Under NIDHI, PRAYAS (Promoting and Accelerating Young and Aspiring innovators & Startups) programme has been initiated in which established Technology Business Incubators (TBI) are supported with PRAYAS grant to support to young innovators and entrepreneurs with grants for ‘Proof of Concept’ and developing prototypes.
  • A maximum grant of Rs. 220 lakh is given to a TBI for establishing a PRAYAS Centre which includes Rs.100 lakh for PRAYAS SHALA, Rs. 20 lakh for operational cost of PRAYAS Centre and maximum of Rs. 10 lakh to one innovator for developing prototype.
  • Funding for ten innovators is given to the TBI in a year.
  • PRAYAS was launched on 2nd September, 2016.
[Ref: PIB, The Hindu]

 

Portable UV sanitiser

Students and faculty of IIT-Bombay’s Industrial Design Centre have developed a portable UV sanitiser which can sterilise wallets, purses and other small items that are passed on from hand to hand.

Major highlights:

  • The portable UV sanitiser has been made using stainless steel kitchen containers and aluminium mesh.
  • Right now, is it in the proof-of-concept stage and has been designed based on a study published in a journal “PubMed”, by the US National Library of Medicine.
  • The study demonstrated how ultraviolet C Light can inactivate Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus, Crimean-Congo Haemorrhagic Fever Virus, and Nipah Virus.
  • Sanitising gel cannot be used on objects, which may also be carriers of the virus. This includes papers, files, currency notes and phones.

Crimean-Congo Haemorrhagic Fever (CCHF):

  • The CCHF virus causes severe viral haemorrhagic fever outbreaks.
  • CCHF outbreaks have a case fatality rate of up to 40%.
  • The virus is primarily transmitted to people from ticks and livestock animals.
  • Human-to-human transmission can occur resulting from close contact with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected persons.
  • CCHF is endemic in Africa, the Balkans, the Middle East and Asia, in countries south of the 50th parallel north.
  • There is no vaccine available for either people or animals.
[Ref: Indian Express]

Key Facts for Prelims

 

Dinacharya and Ritucharya

  • Ayurveda’s extensive knowledge base on preventive care derives from the concepts of “Dinacharya” – daily regimes and “Ritucharya” – seasonal regimes to maintain healthy life. Ayurveda is a plant-based science.
  • The simplicity of awareness about oneself and the harmony each individual can achieve by uplifting and maintaining his or her immunity is emphasized across Ayurveda’s classical scriptures.

Special Economic Zones

  • Special Economic Zones (SEZs) have been a significant contributor to the exports from India over the past years, contributing approximately 18% of India’s total exports.

Stranded in India Portal

  • The Ministry of Tourism launched the portal ‘Stranded in India’ with an aim to extend support to the foreign tourists who are stranded in India.
  • Amid the COVID-19 lockdown, there are numerous foreign tourists stranded in India due to shutdown of air transport.
  • The portal will disseminate information regarding the services that can be availed by foreign tourists who are stuck in various parts of the country and control panic due to fake news.
  • It gives comprehensive information around COVID-19 helpline numbers or call-centres that the foreign tourists can reach out.

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