Current Affairs Analysis

9th April 2020 Current Affairs Analysis – IASToppers

Mahua flowers; Parole; what is difference between parole and furlough? Gaps in controlling COVID-19 pandemic; PCR Test; Antibody Test; Antigen Test; iGOT platform; National Air Quality Index; Problems in villages amid COVID-19 outbreak; Suggestions for Gram Panchayats; Reason for increasing abuse during lockdown; Violence against women in India; Madhuban Gajar; International patents 
By IASToppers
April 09, 2020

Contents

Polity & Governance

  • Panel dissatisfied with delay in prison decongestion
  • Fill in the gap: Test
  • Stop private labs from charging coronavirus testing fee, SC tells govt

Issues related to Health & Education

  • DoPT launched first of its kind iGOT e-learning Platform
  • Study: Long-term exposure to PM 2.5 may raise COVID-19 death risk by 20 times

Social Issues

  • A key arsenal in rural India’s pandemic fight
  • No lockdown for abuse

Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management

  • Odisha’s mahua flower collectors left in lurch

Science & Technology

  • Biofortified carrot variety developed by farmer scientist benefits local farmers

Key Facts for Prelims

  • International patents 

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Polity & Governance

Panel dissatisfied with delay in prison decongestion

A high-powered committee, headed by Delhi High Court judge Justice Hima Kohli, has cautioned that any delay in release of the eligible convicts on emergency parole to complete the exercise of decongestion of jail will make the entire effort futile.

Background

  • The Delhi government had relaxed the norms for grant of parole to eligible inmates lodged in jails following the outbreak of COVID-19.
  • As part of the effort to decongest jails, a new provision of “emergency parole” for a period of eight weeks has been introduced for the eligible inmates.

About Parole

  • Parole is a system of releasing a prisoner with suspension of the sentence. The release is conditional, usually subject to behaviour, and requires periodic reporting to the authorities for a set period of time.
  • In India, parole (as well as furlough) are covered under The Prisons Act of 1894.
  • Since prisons is a State subject in the Constitution, the Prisons Act of each state government defines the rules under which parole is granted in that state. State governments have their own Parole Rules.

How does the parole system work?

  • Parole is granted by the state executive and competent authority takes a final decision on grant of parole on humanitarian considerations.
  • If parole is rejected, the convict can move the High Court challenging the order of the competent authority.
  • Also, apart from regular parole, the superintendent of a jail can also grant parole up to a period of seven days in emergent cases.

What is difference between parole and furlough?

  • Parole may be denied to a convict while furlough is seen as a matter of right, to be granted periodically irrespective of any reason and to enable the prisoner to retain family and social ties.
  • Parole is not a matter of right and may be denied to a prisoner even when he makes out a sufficient case.
  • Furlough is typically given in cases of long jail terms. The period of furlough granted to a prisoner is treated as remission of his sentence.
  • Usually, furlough can be obtained thrice a year and is given to inmates with good behaviour.
[Ref: The Hindu]

Fill in the gap: Test

The nation-wide lockdown that began on March 25 has helped to contain the spread of COVID-19.However, it needs to be asked if India’s response to the coronavirus outbreak has any unseen gaps.

Gaps in controlling COVID-19 pandemic

Low number of infectious disease specialists

  • These specialists are available in India, but they mostly work in big private hospitals. The Clinical Infectious Diseases Society (CIDS) and the Indian Association of Medical Microbiologists (IAMM) are not known to have proffered any advice to the government.

Fulling mandate of National Institute of Biologicals

  • The National Institute of Biologicals (NIB) was established in 1992 by the Ministry of Health to function as the apex body and was mandated to ensure validation of invitro diagnostics, vaccines and biotherapeutics in the event of a pandemic.
  • The NIB ought to deliver on its mandate and the best infectious diseases professional in the country should be steering it. A search committee of retired virologists, infectious diseases specialists and medical microbiologists should be constituted urgently to find a director for the NIB.

Need to conduct antibody test along with PCR test

  • Traditionally, there are two types of diagnostic tests for infectious organisms — tests for the presence of the virus itself (current infection), and tests for antibodies to the virus (current or prior infection).
  • The Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test used for detecting specific genetic material of a virus is key to determine if someone ill is infected with COVID-19. The WHO recommendations have also added antibody and antigen tests alongside the PCR. This will enable mass screenings — these have to be confirmed by PCR tests.

What are PCR, Anti-body and Anti-gen tests?

PCR Test

  • The PCR test identifies a virus from the swabs taken a few days after infection, to about 8-10 days after the first symptoms appear. It can also provide clues to community transmission, including anticipating the percentage of population that might develop serious complications.
  • A PCR test takes six to eight hours, not counting the time taken to collect and send the sample to the nearest lab. It is expensive as each test costs around Rs 4,500.
  • A commercial test named X-pert has recently been approved by the US FDA for detecting the virus’ nucleic acid within a couple of hours.

Antibody Test

  • The antibody test is the best to calculate the number of people who may have experienced COVID-19.
  • It is dependable for hotspot surveillance; it is quick and helps to see who has been infected more than 10 days earlier.
  • The only negative aspect of it is that if conducted very early, it may miss virus shedders while hunting for the antibodies.

Antigen Test

  • Antigen test identifies the protein component of the virus and could be used even sooner than the antibody test.
[Ref: Indian Express]

Stop private labs from charging coronavirus testing fee, SC tells govt

The Supreme Court suggested that the Centre devise a mechanism which prevents private laboratories conducting coronavirus tests to not charge an exorbitant amount from the public.

Order of Supreme court

  • Besides asking for making lab tests free, court also asked the government to reimburse the fee charged by labs.
  • The government will pay private labs for collection, and they will also undertake collection for testing in both public and private labs.
[Ref: Business Standard]

Issues related to Health & Education

DoPT launched first of its kind iGOT e-learning Platform

The Department of Personnel and Training has announced the launch of a learning platform iGOT to combat COVID 19 for all front-line workers to equip them with the training and updates in coping with Pandemic. 

About the iGOT platform

  • The platform delivers curated, role-specific content, to each learner at his place of work or home and to any device of his choice.
  • To begin with nine (9) courses on iGOT have been launched on topics like Basics of COVID, ICU Care and Ventilation Management, Clinical Management, Infection Prevention through PPE, etc.
  • The target group is Doctors, Nurses, Paramedics, Hygiene Workers, Technicians, Auxiliary Nursing Midwives (ANMs), Central & State Govt. Officers, Civil Defence Officials etc.
[Ref: PIB]

Study: Long-term exposure to PM 2.5 may raise COVID-19 death risk by 20 times

A new study by Harvard University researchers concludes that long-term average exposure to fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) increases the risk of COVID-19 death by 20 times.

Highlights of the study

  • The study has found that an increase of just 1 microgram per cubic metre of air (ug/m3) in PM 2.5 is associated with a 15% increase in the COVID-19 death rate.
  • The results suggest that long-term exposure to air pollution increases vulnerability to experiencing the most severe COVID-19 outcomes. These findings align with the known relationship between PM 2.5 exposure and many of the cardiovascular and respiratory co-morbidities that dramatically increase the risk of death in COVID-19 patients.

National Air Quality Index

Launched in 2014, National Air Quality Index (AQI) transforms complex air quality data of eight pollutants into a single number (index value), nomenclature and colour.

The measurement of air quality is based on eight pollutants, namely,

  • Particulate Matter (size less than 10 µm) or (PM10),  
  • Particulate Matter (size less than 2.5 µm) or (PM2.5),
  • Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2),
  • Sulphur Dioxide (SO2),
  • Carbon Monoxide (CO),
  • Ozone (O3),
  • Ammonia (NH3), and
  • Lead (Pb)
[Ref: Indian Express]

Social Issues

A key arsenal in rural India’s pandemic fight

With the influx of thousands of migrant labourers into their villages, the houses in villages, which are often one or two-room dwellings with an average seven family members to accommodate, are some of the worst places where one can hope to contain the deadly disease. 

Problems in villages amid COVID-19 outbreak

  • Along with the absence of running water within households, the possibility of common points in village arenas becoming hotspots for this deadly contagion becomes manifold.
  • Only a few States have been able to involve gram panchayats very effectively in this situation. For example, community kitchens are run by local bodies in Kerala, where home delivery of cooked food is spiking as the situation demands.

Suggestions for Gram Panchayats

Panchayats can work exactly in three areas:

  • Awareness generation,
  • Setting up isolation conditions, and
  • Streamlining social security measures announced by the Central and State governments.
  • A model needs to be established, with concrete standard operating procedures and best practices that can be replicated throughout rural India.
  • Organisations such as Professional Assistance For Development Action (PRADAN) have been trying to influence gram panchayats in many States to coordinate with the administration to use the resources of panchayats. This should be done more.
  • Even with the harvesting of wheat almost over in States such as Madhya Pradesh; people are still out in the fields, but once they are done with their work it is the panchayat that can do the work effectively to confine people within their homes with adequate awareness generation.
  • Community policing with the active engagement of panchayats, by collaborating with women’s collectives, is a potential area where a people-led movement can be kick-started in a short time span.
  • Despite the financial packages being rolled out to avert panic about basic food requirements, many will be left out as documentation is core to availing these social-service provisioning schemes. Without gram panchayats, it is not possible to deploy any system to adequately take prompt actions to include the excluded.
[Ref: The Hindu]

No lockdown for abuse

There have been reports of a significant increase in domestic violence cases since the imposition of lockdowns in many parts of the world.

Reason for increasing abuse during lockdown

  • When men and/or women get employed, domestic violence tends to fall as interactions between couples reduce.
  • Under a lockdown, interaction time has increased and families have been left without access to the outside world.
  • Violence is a way for the man to assert his notion of masculinity. The current atmosphere of fear, uncertainty, food insecurity, and unemployment may create feelings of inadequacy in men.
  • The lack of access to friends, family and support organisations is expected to aggravate the situation for abused women further.

Violence against women in India

  • The National Family Health Survey (NFHS) data show that 24% of women faced domestic violence in 2015-16 not seeing any reduction since 2005-06.
  • Compared to above survey results, the actual reports of domestic violence to the police are negligible at 58.8/ one lakh women. 
  • The disparity between the crimes reported in a survey and registered with the police highlights how women are unlikely to seek help. 
  • As per NFHS data is perhaps that 52% of the surveyed women and 42% of the surveyed men think there is at least one valid reason for wife-beating. 
  • The NFHS data also highlight how the proportion of women reporting violence is increasing among families with lower wealth.

Suggestions

  • Acknowledge and accept that domestic violence happens and work to reduce the stigma attached to the victims of such violence. Such support may prompt abused women to seek at least informal means to redress their issues.
  • The provision of cash transfers and ration support are likely to sustain the family and also reduce stress in the household leading to lower violence against women.
  • The National Commission for Women (NCW) could increase its advertising expenditure on TV to relay messages requesting women to contact the police station for help. The 181 helpline number set up for this reason should remain active, and women should be reminded of this number via TV ads.
  • The government could also send mass SMS messages as it did during the onset of the COVID-19 crisis as most women have access to at least a basic phone.
[Ref: The Hindu]

 Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management

Odisha’s mahua flower collectors left in lurch

Trading in mahua flowers (Madhuca longifolia) in summers is one of the major sources of livelihood of tribal people in Odisha. However, the lockdown has hurt the trade and disrupted tribal economy.

About Mahua flowers

  • Mahua (Madhuca longifolia) is a multipurpose tropical tree mainly cultivated or harvested in the wild in Southern Asia for its edible flowers and oil seeds.
  • Mahua is indigenous to India, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Myanmar.
  • It is a frost resistant species that can grow in marginal areas of dry tropical and subtropical forests up to an altitude of 1200-1800 m.
  • The leaves of Mahua are fed on by the moth Antheraea paphia, which produces tassar silk, a form of wild silk of commercial importance in India.
  • They are also fermented to produce the alcoholic drink mahua, a country liquor.
[Ref: Down To Earth]

Science & Technology

Biofortified carrot variety developed by farmer scientist benefits local farmers

Vallabhhai Vasrambhai Marvaniya, a farmer scientist from Junagadh district, Gujarat developed Madhuban Gajar and is benefitting more than 150 local farmers in the area.

About Madhuban Gajar

  • It is a biofortified carrot variety with high β-carotene and iron content.
  • It has average yield of 40-50 t/ha and has become the main source of income to the local farmers.
  • The variety is being cultivated in more than 1000 hectares of land in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh during the last three years.
  • National Innovation Foundation (NIF) India, an autonomous institute under the Department of Science and Technology, conducted validation trials for this and found that Madhuban Gajar possesses a higher root yield and plant biomass as compared to check variety.
[Ref: PIB]

Key Facts for Prelims

International patents 

  • Recently, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) has highlighted that China has become the biggest source of applications for international patents in the world.
  • China has pushed the United States from the top position which it has held since the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) system was set up in 1978.
  • Japan is on the third rank followed by Germany and South Korea.
  • Currently, more than half of patent applications, almost 52.4%, come from Asia.
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