Current Affairs Analysis

30th April 2020 Current Affairs Analysis – IASToppers

Antiviral from medicinal plants of Western Ghats; SC: Minority institution rights are not Absolute; Rights of Minority Educational Institutions; Task Force on NIP presents its Final Report; National Infrastructure Pipeline; Human Challenge Trials; Chinese dams raise concerns for downstream nations; Mekong river; Brahmaputra river; Dibang Valley project under fire from activists; Dibang Valley; Dibang Multipurpose Project (DPP); India remains in the U.S. Priority Watch List; Special 301 Report; NITI Aayog questions IEP’s terror ranking of India; Global Terrorism Index; Natural product based Alzheimer inhibitor; Alzheimer disease; Raja Ravi Varma; Mission Life Saving; Robotic device HCARD; COVID Kawach; Kerala Cabinet order; TeCHO+ App; RT-PCR mobile based app
By IASToppers
April 30, 2020

Contents

Polity & Governance

  • SC: Minority institution rights are not Absolute

Government Schemes and policies

  • Task Force on NIP presents its Final Report

Issues related to health and education

  • Human Challenge Trials

Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management

  • Chinese dams raise concerns for downstream nations
  • Dibang Valley project under fire from activists

Bilateral & International Relations

  • India remains in the U.S. Priority Watch List
  • NITI Aayog questions IEP’s terror ranking of India

Science and Technology

  • Natural product based Alzheimer inhibitor

Art and Culture

  • Raja Ravi Varma

Key Facts for Prelims

  • Mission Life Saving
  • Robotic device HCARD
  • COVID Kawach
  • Kerala Cabinet order
  • TeCHO+ App
  • Antiviral from medicinal plants of Western Ghats
  • RT-PCR mobile based app

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Polity & Governance

SC: Minority institution rights are not Absolute

The Supreme Court recently ruled that NEET will be the only exam for admission to the Medical courses and institutions cannot be allowed to conduct their own separate exams over and above NEET.

What is the issue?

  • The petitioners from Christian Medical College, Vellore, and others had said that unaided minority professional colleges have the fundamental right to choose the method and manner of admitting students.
  • They have the right to conduct the test of a fair, transparent, and non­-exploitative process, and that NEET could not be the only parameter to determine the merit of a student.
  • However, SC quashed the petition by ruling that the minority institutions are equally bound to comply with the conditions imposed under the relevant Acts and Regulations to enjoy affiliation and recognition, which apply to all institutions.

SC’s verdict:

  • Article 19 (1) (g) grants citizens the right to practice any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business while Article 30 relates to the right of minorities to establish and administer educational institutions.
  • The rights to administer an institution under Article 30 of the Constitution are not above the law and other Constitutional provisions.
  • Reasonable regulatory measures can be provided without violating such rights available under Article 30 of the Constitution to administer an institution.
  • The rights under Article 19(1) (g) are not absolute and are subject to reasonable restriction in the interest of the student’s community to promote merit, recognition of excellence, and to curb the malpractices.

Rights of Minority Educational Institutions:

  • The National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions Act 2004  as amended by the NCMEI (Amendment Act 2006) lays down rights of Minority Educational Institutions as under:-

Right to establish a Minority Educational Institution:-

1. Any person who desires to establish a Minority Institution may apply to the Competent authority for the grant of no objection certificate for the said purpose.

2. The Competent authority shall:-

  • On perusal of documents, affidavits or other evidence, if any; and
  • After giving an opportunity of being heard to the applicant, decide every application filed under sub-section (1) as expeditiously as possible and grant or reject the application, as the case may be:
  • Provided that where an application is rejected, the Competent authority shall communicate the same to the applicant.

Article 30 (1) of the Constitution and Section 2(g) of the NCMEI Act:

  • To choose its governing body in whom the founders of the institution have faith and confidence to conduct and manage the affairs of the institution.
  • To appoint teaching and non-teaching staff.
  • To admit the students of its community.
  • Non-minority students cannot be forced upon it.
  • Neither the policy of reservation on admission can be enforced by the State nor any quota or percentage of admissions can be carved out to be appropriate by the State in a minority education institution.
  • But if the institution is receiving any financial aid from the State then Sub-Article (2) of Article 29 of Constitution obligates the management to admit non-minority students to a reasonable extent.
  • To receive a reasonable fee structure of its own.
  • To take disciplinary action against  any member of its erring staff.

P.A. Inamdar  Vs. State of Maharashtra, 2006 case:

  • The policy of reservation in admission cannot be made applicable to a minority  institution.
  • The policy of reservation in employment can not be made applicable to a minority institution.
  • Further, a minority educational institution covered under Article 30(1) of the Constitution including a Madarsa is exempted from the purview of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act.
[Ref: Indian express, NCMEI]

Government Schemes and policies

 Task Force on NIP presents its Final Report

The Task Force on National Infrastructure Pipeline (NIP) submitted its Final Report to the Union Minister for Finance & Corporate Affairs recently.

 National Infrastructure Pipeline:

  • NIP is a first-of-its-kind, whole-of-government exercise to provide world-class infrastructure across the country, and improve the quality of life for all citizens.
  • It aims to improve project preparation, attract investments (both domestic and foreign) into infrastructure, and will be crucial for the target of becoming a $5 trillion economy by FY 2025.
  • For development of modern infrastructure, an amount of Rs. 100 lakh crore has been earmarked for this period (2020-25) which will create new job opportunities besides improving the living standards.

Highlights of the Report:

  • The Final Report of NIP Task Force is projecting total infrastructure investment of Rs 111 lakh crore during the period FY 2020-25 in light of additional/amended data provided by Central Ministries/State Governments since the release of summary NIP Report.
  • To draw up the NIP, a bottom-up approach was adopted wherein all projects costing greater than Rs 100 crore per project were sought to be captured.
  • Out of the total expected capital expenditure of Rs. 111 lakh crore, sectors such as energy (24%), roads (18%), urban (17%) and railways (12%) amount to around 71% of the projected infrastructure investments in India.
  • The Centre (39%) and States (40%) are expected to have almost equal share in implementing the NIP in India, followed by the private sector (21%).
  • The report also has suggested ways and means of financing the NIP through deepening Corporate Bond markets, including those of Municipal Bonds, setting up Development Financial Institutions for the infrastructure sector, accelerating Monetisation of Infrastructure Assets, Land monetisation, etc.

Recommendations:

  • The Task Force has recommended that three Committees be setup:
    • a Committee to monitor NIP progress and eliminate delays;
    • a Steering Committee in each Infrastructure ministry level for following up implementation; and
    • a Steering Committee in DEA for raising financial resources for the NIP.
  •  While basic monitoring will vest with the ministry and project agency, there is a need for a higher level of monitoring on reforms to be undertaken and to deal with issues of stalled projects.
[Ref: PIB]

Issues related to health and education

Human Challenge Trials

Human Challenge Trials is a method which involves intentionally infecting volunteers with the novel coronavirus, and then controversial testing of new vaccines on them.

How are vaccines usually developed?

  • Vaccines take several years to develop, and their development typically proceeds through three phases of clinical trials.
  • In Phase 1, small groups of people receive the trial vaccine.
  • During Phase 2, the clinical study is expanded and the vaccine is given to people who have characteristics (such as age and physical health) similar to those for whom the new vaccine is intended.
  • In Phase 3, the vaccine is given to several thousand people and tested for efficacy and safety. During this phase, participants either receive the vaccine or a placebo (inert substance or treatment which is designed to have no therapeutic value).
  • The efficacy of the vaccine is determined by comparing the prevalence of infection in the group that was administered the vaccine with the one which received a placebo.

What are human challenge trials?

  • Under human challenge trials, participants of both the vaccine group and placebo group upon consent are deliberately exposed to the infection – thus are “challenged” by the disease organism.
  • Proponents of the method believe that such trials could save valuable time in developing a Covid-19 vaccine, as researchers would not have to wait for participants to contract the infection under real-world conditions.
  • Such testing would also require significantly less number of people than regular Phase 3 trials, which require thousands of volunteers.

The ethical concerns:

  • While human challenge trials are not new, they are usually carried out in developing medications for diseases which are considered less lethal and have been better understood by scientists over the years, such as malaria.
  • Critics have questioned undertaking such trials for Covid-19, which is potentially deadly and novel disease for even those who are less at risk.
  • As per WHO: Such research can appear to be in conflict with the guiding principle in medicine to do no harm.
  • Well documented historical examples of human exposure studies would be considered unethical by current standards.
  • It is essential that challenge studies be conducted within an ethical framework in which truly informed consent is given.
[Ref: Indian Express]

Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management

Chinese dams raise concerns for downstream nations

A new study highlighting the impact of China’s dams on the Mekong river has raised fresh questions on whether dams being built by China on Brahmaputra may similarly impact countries downstream.

Mekong river:

  • While China’s southwestern Yunnan province had above-average rainfall from May to October 2019, there was “severe lack of water in the lower Mekong.”
  • The Mekong flows from China to Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.
  • The study released this month said six dams built since the commissioning of the Nuozhadu dam in 2012 had altered natural flow of the river.

India’s concerns:

  • India has long expressed concerns over dam-building on the Brahmaputra.
  • In 2015, China operationalised its first hydropower project at Zangmu, while three other dams at Dagu, Jiexu and Jiacha are being developed.
  • India, for the most part, doesn’t have a water quantity problem but a management one.
  • Indian officials have said the dams are not likely to impact the quantity of the Brahmaputra’s flows because they are only storing water for power generation.
  • Moreover, the Brahmaputra is not entirely dependent on upstream flows and an estimated 35% of its basin is in India.
  • India does not have a water-sharing agreement with China, but both sides share hydrological data.
  • India worries more about activity in China affecting quality, ecological balance, and flood management.

Brahmaputra river:

  • The Brahmaputra is a trans-boundary river which flows through China, India and Bangladesh.
  • It is called Yarlung Tsangpo in Tibet, Siang/Dihang River in Arunachal Pradesh and Luit or Dilao in Assam.
  • It has its origin in the Chemayungdung Glacier, Manasarovar Lake region, near the Mount Kailash, located on the northern side of the Himalayas in Tibet.
  • It enters into India through Arunachal Pradesh and flows southwest through the Assam Valley as Brahmaputra and south through Bangladesh as the Jamuna.
  • In the vast Ganges Delta, it merges with the Padma (popular name of the river Ganges in Bangladesh) and becomes the Meghna and empties into the Bay of Bengal.
[Ref: The Hindu]

Dibang Valley project under fire from activists

Environmentalists have petitioned the environment ministry to reject the Etalin hydro power project in Arunachal Pradesh’s Dibang Valley that poses a threat to the region’s rich biodiversity.

Concerns:

  • The controversial 3097 MW Etalin Hydroelectric Project that seeks to divert 1150.08 hectares of land would result in felling over 2.7 lakh trees in the biodiversity-rich Dibang Valley.
  • The project poses multiple risks to not only the biodiversity of the region, but also the indigenous community that has protected the forests and wildlife for generations.
  • The proposed dam site is a seismically active zone, recording more than 30 earthquakes in the past century.
  • The scientists have also warned of the collective impact of building multiple hydropower projects on the same river.
  • The Etalin project, along with the Dibang Multipurpose Project (2880 MW) that obtained forest clearance just last month, are considered to be the country’s largest planned projects.
  • Both are reportedly to be constructed on the same limb of the Dibang river that runs through the valley.

Dibang valley:

  • Dibang Valley is a district of Arunachal Pradesh named after the Dibang River.
  • Although the Dibang Valley district is the largest district in the state, it is the least populated district in India.
  • The Dibang River originates in the mountains of Arunachal Pradesh and flows through the length of the valley which is named after it.
  • The valley has unique biodiversity which among other includes Schedule I endangered species including the endangered Rufous-necked Hornbill.

Dibang Multipurpose Project (DPP):

  • Dibang Multipurpose Project is a hydropower cum flood moderation scheme proposed on Dibang River in Lower Dibang Valley District of Arunachal Pradesh.
  • On completion, it will be the largest and highest ever Hydro Electric Project to be constructed in India.
  • The project would moderate flood in the areas downstream of the Dibang Dam during the entire monsoon period and help in mitigating the perennial damage due to floods in Assam.
  • It is one of the components of the master plan of the Brahmaputra Board for flood moderation of all rivers contributing to river Brahmaputra.
[Ref: Hindustan Times, The Citizen]

Bilateral & International Relations

India remains in the U.S. Priority Watch List

India continues to be on the ‘Priority Watch List’ of the US Trade Representative (USTR) for lack of adequate intellectual property rights (IPR) protection and enforcement.

What is the issue?

  • The USTR released its annual Special 301 Report recently and has placed India in the ‘Priority Watch List’.
  • Algeria, Argentina, Chile, China, Indonesia, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Ukraine and Venezuela are also on the Priority Watch List.

Highlights of the Report:

  • India remained one of the most challenging economies for intellectual property (IP) enforcement and protection.
  • While India made “meaningful progress” to enhance IP protection and enforcement in some areas over the past year, it did not resolve recent and long-standing challenges.
  • These long-standing concerns were about innovators being able to receive, maintain and enforce patents particularly in the pharmaceutical sector; concerns over copyright laws not incentivising the creation and commercialisation of content; and an outdated trade secrets framework.
  • India also further restricted the transparency of information provided on state-issued pharmaceutical manufacturing licenses, applied restrictive patentability criteria to reject pharmaceutical patents, and still has not established an effective system for protecting against the unfair commercial use.
  • The report also mentioned high customs duties on medical devices and Information and Communications Technology.
  • These goods categories were persistent challenges in trade talks between the two countries last year.

Special 301 Report:

  • The Special 301 Report identifies trading partners that do not adequately or effectively protect and enforce intellectual property (IP) rights or otherwise deny market access to U.S. innovators and creators that rely on protection of their IP rights.
  • Trading partners that currently present the most significant concerns regarding IP rights are placed on the Priority Watch List or Watch List.
  • Algeria, Argentina, Chile, China, India, Indonesia, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Ukraine and Venezuela are on the Priority Watch List.
[Ref: The Hindu]

NITI Aayog questions IEP’s terror ranking of India

NITI Aayog has recently questioned Institute for Economics and Peace for its methodology adopted  to rank India as the seventh worst terrorism affected country.

What is the issue?

  • A report compiled by NITI Aayog has questioned the methodology adopted by an Australia based institute to rank India as the seventh worst terrorism affected country ahead of conflict-ridden countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Sudan, Burkina Faso, Palestine and Lebanon.
  • The report also questions the opaque funding of the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP).

Global Terrorism Index:

  • The Global Terrorism Index (GTI) is an annual report published annually by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) since 2000.
  • The GTI covers 163 countries, covering 99.7% of the world’s population.
  • It produces a composite score in order to provide an ordinal ranking of countries on the impact of terrorism.
  • The aim of the report is to examine trends and to help inform a positive and practical debate about the future of terrorism and the required policy responses.

Parameters used:

  • Number of terrorist incidents per year
  • Number of fatalities caused by terrorists per year
  • Number of injuries caused by terrorists per year
  • Total property damage caused by terrorism per year.

GTI Ranking 2019:

  • India has moved to the seventh position from the previous year’s eighth in the annual Global Terrorism Index (GTI) 2019.
  • The countries ahead of India are Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Syria, Pakistan and Somalia.

Concerns:

  • India is concerned with the opaque methodology used by the Institute to rank any country.
  • The lack of clarity in the definitions of terrorism amongst countries, including in the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism pending in the UN General Assembly since 2014, leads to a great deal of ambiguity in calculating and understanding GTI reports.
  • The positioning in the global indices impacts investments and other opportunities.
[Ref: The Hindu]

Science and Technology

Natural product based Alzheimer inhibitor

Scientists from Jawaharlal Nehru Centre For Advanced Scientific Research (JNCASR), an autonomous institute under the Department of Science & Technology have developed a natural product based Alzheimer inhibitor.

Major Highlights:

  • The scientists have modified the structure of Berberine, a natural and cheap product similar to curcumin, available commercially, into Ber-D to use as a Alzheimer’s inhibitor.
  • They selected isoquinoline natural product berberine found in India and China and used in traditional medicine and other applications.
  • However, berberine is poorly soluble and toxic to cells.
  • So they modified berberine to Ber-D, which is a soluble (aqueous), antioxidant.
  • They found it to be a multifunctional inhibitor of multifaceted amyloid toxicity of Alzheimer’s disease.
  • The multifunctional attributes make Ber-D a promising candidate for developing effective therapeutics to treat multifaceted toxicity of Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s disease:

  • Alzheimer’s disease is an irreversible and progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys memory, thinking ability and the capability to carry out simple tasks.
  • Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia (a continuous decline in thinking, behavioral and social skills).
  • In most people with Alzheimer’s, symptoms first appear in their mid-60s.

Assumed factors causing Disease:

  • A genetic mutation,
  • Abnormal build-up of proteins in and around brain cells,
  • Head Injuries, Cardiovascular disease and Down’s syndrome,
  • Other factors are hearing loss, social isolation, a sedentary lifestyle, untreated depression etc.
[Ref: PIB]

Art and Culture

Raja Ravi Varma

April 29 is the birth anniversary of the famed Indian painter Raja Ravi Varma (1848-1906).

Early life:

  • Varma was born into aristocracy at Kilimanoor in the erstwhile Travancore state of present-day Kerala, and was closely related to its royal family.
  • At the age of 14, Varma was patronised by Ayilyam Thirunal, the then ruler of Travancore, and went on to receive training in watercolours from Ramaswamy Naidu, the royal painter.
  • Varma worked on both portrait and landscape paintings, and is considered among the first Indian artists to use oil paints.
  • Varma is also known for having mastered the reproduction of his work on the lithographic press– through which his paintings spread far and wide.

Key Facts:

  • He continues to be regarded as the most important representative of the Europeanised school of painting in India.
  • He is believed to have made around 7,000 paintings before his death at the age of 58.
  • He is remembered for giving Indians their western, classical representations of Hindu gods and goddesses.
  • His famous works include Damayanti Talking to a Swan, Shakuntala Looking for Dushyanta, Nair Lady Adorning Her Hair, and Shantanu and Matsyagandha.
  • In 1904, the British colonial government awarded Varma with the Kaiser-i-Hind Gold Medal.
  • In 2013, a crater on the planet Mercury was named in his honour.
[Ref: Indian Express]

Key Facts for Prelims

Mission Life Saving

  • The mission has been launched in Rajasthan to save the lives of people in the high-risk groups.
  • It lays emphasis on identifying old people above 60 years, people suffering from high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer and pulmonary disease, pregnant women and children below 10 years of age living in the COVID-19 containment zones.
  • The mission would identify the high-risk people at the early stage of COVID-19 infection, track their medical history for targeted attention and treat them on priority.

Robotic device HCARD

  • The HCARD (Hospital Care Assistive Robotic Device) is developed by Durgapur-based CSIR lab, Central Mechanical Engineering Research Institute.
  • It can help frontline healthcare workers in maintaining physical distance from those infected by coronavirus.
  • It works both in automatic as well as manual modes of navigation.

COVID Kawach

  • To keep a strict vigil in the containment zones of South East district, Delhi Police launched ‘Covid Kawach’, a scheme to check “unwanted movement” of residents and spread awareness about the virus.
  • Under the new scheme, eight e-rickshaws have been hired to patrol the areas.

Kerala Cabinet order

 ● The Kerala Cabinet has cleared a draft Ordinance  empowering the government for deferring six days’ salary of employees and teachers for five months to face the extraordinary fiscal crisis triggered by the COVID19 outbreak.

  • The Kerala High Court Registrar General thus has requested the State government to exempt salaries of High Court judges from the government’s salary deferment order.
  • As per Article 221 of the Constitution, High Court judges are paid salaries as determined by Parliament and they shall not be varied to their disadvantage after appointment.
  • As per this ordinance, state government has been empowered to deduct up to one fourth of the total monthly salary of an employee for the management of the crisis that stemmed out of the public health emergency.

TeCHO+ App

  • The Gujarat state health commissioner has raised concerns of data privacy, ownership and storage regarding TeCHO+ app, which is being used to upload data on COVID-19 patients.
  • Through TeCHO+, which has tie-ups with the Gujarat government, citizens can register complaints or feedback regarding government health services.

 Antiviral from medicinal plants of Western Ghats

  • Jawaharlal Nehru Tropical Botanical Garden and Research Institute (JNTBGRI), Thiruvananthapuram has received the ICMR’s approval for testing the effectiveness of the plant’s extraction for treatment of coronavirus.
  • The test would be held at National Institute of Virology (NIV), Pune.
  • The institute’s ongoing project on “antiviral from medicinal plants of Western Ghats” had found that a compound from a particular plant extraction is effective against chikungunya and dengue, both viral infections. The extraction has effective antivirus property.

RT-PCR mobile based app

  • With discrepancies in reporting of sample testing data found from certain labs, the Union health ministry launched a dedicated real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) mobile based application, for labs to fill the data at the point of sample collection.
  • It is an app for collection centres to fill data at the point of sample collection, to minimise error in reporting real time data to the government authorities.

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