Current Affairs 30th June

Ensure that no migrant worker goes hungry, SC instructs govt. #GS2 #SocialIssues

A government cannot “abdicate” its duties to feed migrant workers, especially during a pandemic, merely because they did not have ration cards, the Supreme Court said in a judgment.

There is a large number of such migrants who do not possess any card. Their above disability is due to their poverty and lack of education. The State cannot abdicate its duty towards such persons, especially in the wake of the pandemic where large numbers of migrant workers are not able to get jobs which may satisfy their basic needs,” a Bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan and M.R. Shah observed in an 80-page judgment.

The court set July 31 as the deadline for the Centre and the States to ensure their “bounden duty” that none among the estimated 38 crore migrant workers, who form one-fourth of the country’s population, goes hungry during the pandemic. These workers too have made “considerable contributions” to the country’s growth and economic development.

The court ordered the State governments to frame schemes to distribute dry rations to migrant workers by July 31. “The States/Union Territories have to make extra efforts to reach migrant labourers so that no migrant labourer is denied two meals a day,” Justice Bhushan, who wrote the judgment, said.

The Centre has to supply whatever additional quantity of food grains a State demanded. The allocation of additional food grains and running of community kitchens in prominent places to feed workers should continue throughout the pandemic. Right to food, one of the “bare necessities of life”, was an intrinsic part of the right to live with dignity, the court told the government.

It ordered all the States to fully implement the One Nation One Ration Card (ONORC) scheme by July 31. The scheme allows migrant labourers covered under the National Food Security Act (NFSA) to access food at any fair price shop with his or her ration card in any part of the country.

‘Unpardonable apathy’

The court slammed the Labour Ministry for its “unpardonable apathy” in not completing the work of the Rs. 45.39 crore National Database for Unorganised Workers (NDUW) portal to register and identify migrant workers and unorganised labourers to ensure their rights, welfare and food security.

The court had ordered the Ministry to finalise the NDUW module way back in 2018. The Centre has blamed the delay in implementation on “software” problems.

Govt. gives nod for Cipla to import Moderna’s vaccine #GS3 #SnT

The Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) granted permission to Mumbai-based pharma major Cipla to import Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine, making it the fourth vaccine in the country to be given the emergency use authorisation (EUA).

Announcing this at the Health Ministry’s press conference, NITI Aayog’s member (Health) V.K. Paul said the modalities were being worked out for the import of the vaccine and added that India is also in talks with Pfizer and JJ to add to the basket of vaccines available in the country. Currently, India has made available three COVID vaccines — Covaxin, Covishield and Sputnik.

7-month storage

Dr. Paul said the Moderna vaccine would be brought in as a ready-to-use injectable vaccine, which can be stored for seven months at prescribed temperature, and that normal storage after a vial is opened is 30 days.

“We are working to ensure that India is able to manufacture this vaccine here. We are also looking at increasing the production of vaccines that are being manufactured in our country to boost availability. The permission for restricted use in emergency situations has been granted for the Moderna vaccine keeping in mind the public interest.”

“The firm has to submit a safety assessment of the vaccine in the first 100 beneficiaries before rolling out the vaccine, according to the approval order. He added that an application was received from Moderna through its Indian partner Cipla, following which the vaccine has been granted restricted emergency use authorisation by the drug regulator.

“This new permission for restricted emergency use potentially opens up a clear possibility of this vaccine being imported in the near future. Cipla, while applying for the license, referred to DCGI notices dated April 15 and June 1 that if a vaccine is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for EUA, then it may be made available without a post-approval bridging trial and the testing of every batch of the vaccine by the Central Drugs Laboratory.

FIR in U.P., M.P. against Twitter officials over ‘distorted’ map #GS3 #Security

An FIR has been lodged against the managing director of Twitter India, Manish Maheshwari, and his colleague, Amrita Tripathi, in Bulandshahr for allegedly showing a distorted map of India on their website.

The Cyber Crime Cell of Madhya Pradesh Police has also registered a case against Mr. Maheshwari over the distorted map, following a directive by the State Home Minister, Narottam Mishra. In Uttar Pradesh, the complaint was filed by a Bajrang Dal leader who alleged that in a world map on Twitter, J&K and Ladakh were shown as entities separate from India. The FIR was lodged under Section 505 (2) of the IPC and Section 74 of the IT Act.

Ms. Tripathi, who is mentioned as India head of Twitter, posted on Tuesday: “So is this a good time to clarify my role at my day job? As good a time as any? Presently on the content partnerships team at Twitter (in India). No spl powers/authority and definitely not at the level some of you think…”

Chamoli disaster due to avalanche #GS3 #DM

The flash flood on February 7 in Chamoli district, Uttarakhand, that claimed at least 72 lives with at least 200 missing was due to a large mass of snow, ice and rock avalanche along with a hanging mass of rock crashing into the Raunthi Garh valley floor.

This impact pulverised the combination of rock, snow and ice causing a rapid flow downstream of Raunthi Garh and into the Rishiganga valley leading to the deluge, the Geological Survey of India (GSI) said in a report.

The deluge had destroyed the 13.2 MW Rishiganga power plant and damaged the 520 MW Tapovan-Vishnugadh hydel power project, in whose tunnels several workers had been fatally trapped.

The event had sparked global scientific interest with several groups of scientists, both in India and abroad, perusing satellite imagery as well as some teams making field visits to the site to determine the cause of the disaster. A report in the journal Science earlier this month too came to a similar conclusion, reporting that nearly 27 million cubic metres of rock and ice had crashed into the valley floor.

Warm weather

A contributory factor, according to Saibal Ghosh, senior scientist at the GSI, was unusually warm weather in the region. “Observed change in the hydro-meteorological conditions between 4th and 6th February, 2021 (heavy snowfall followed by sudden warmer climate) possibly triggered this huge snow and rock avalanche/landslide causing sudden domino effect of flash flood in the downstream.”

Satya Prakash Shukla, Deputy Director General, International Affairs Division, GSI Central Headquarters, who led the team of geologists investigating the disaster site, said, “Lessons have also been learnt from this event of 7th February 2021 which is an excellent example of multi-hazard phenomena that occurred during the winter time, when this type of phenomenon leading to such disastrous deluge is least expected in the Himalayas.”

There was no evidence of a Glacial Lake Outburst Flood (GLOF) having caused the event. Due to the large volume of debris and the deluge, an artificial dam had formed near the confluence of Raunthi Garh and Rishiganga river, by the flowing debris which blocked the flow of the Rishiganga river and formed a small lake temporarily.

A study by the National Remote Sensing Centre indicated that the time taken from the initiation of the avalanche and its disastrous impact up to Tapovan barrage site near Joshimath was “barely 50 minutes”, which indicates availability of a “very low lead time for raising any warning for the downstream areas.”

Indians value religious freedom, not integration #GS2 #SocialIssues #GS1 #Society

Most Indians, cutting across religions, feel they enjoy religious freedom, value religious tolerance, and regard respect for all religions as central to what India is as a nation. At the same time the majority in each of the major religious groups show a marked preference for religious segregation and “want to live separately”, according to a nation-wide survey on religious attitudes, behaviours and beliefs conducted by Pew Research Center, a non-profit based in Washington DC.

For instance, the report found that 91% of Hindus felt they have religious freedom, while 85% of them believed that respecting all religions was very important ‘to being truly Indian’.

Also, for most Hindus, religious tolerance was not just a civic virtue but also a religious value, with 80% of them stating that respecting other religions was an integral aspect of ‘being Hindu’. Other religions showed similar numbers for freedom of religion and religious tolerance. While 89% of Muslims and Christians said they felt free to practice their religion, the comparative figures for Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains were 82%, 93%, and 85% respectively.

And yet, paradoxically the majority in all the faiths scored poorly on the metrics for religious segregation: composition of friends circle, views on stopping inter-religious marriage, and willingness to accept people of other religions as neighbours. The survey found that nationally, three-in-ten Hindus took both these positions: linking being Hindu and speaking Hindi to being Indian, and voting for BJP.

But there was a clear geographical skew in their distribution: while roughly half of the Hindu voters in northern and central India fell into this category, only 5% of Hindu voters in the South did so. Also, Hindu nationalist sentiments were less prevalent in the South. Among Hindus, those in the South (42%) were far less likely to say that being Hindu was very important to being truly Indian.

Cyber skills being used for terror, says Shringla #GS3 #Security

India accused certain countries of using cyberspace expertise to conduct cross-border terrorism. At the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on Tuesday, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla said there were widespread concerns that both State and non-state actors were now manipulating ICT (Information and Communications Technology) products.

The comments follow an international report that claimed India’s cybersecurity capabilities were weak, and in a year, the government had said, there had been a 300% increase in cyberattacks, including on several power grids, and more recently on Air India’s databases.

Some States are leveraging their expertise in cyberspace to achieve their political and security-related objectives and indulge in contemporary forms of cross-border terrorism,” said Mr. Shringla, addressing the UNSC debate on “Maintenance of International Peace and Security: Cyber Security”.

The use of cyberspace by terrorists to “spread virulent propaganda, incite hatred and violence, recruit youth and raise funds”, as well as the ability of states and terrorists to infiltrate networks were other challenges, he said, without naming any countries.

“Such nefarious acts undermine the trust and confidence in the global ICT supply chain, compromise security and could become a flashpoint between States. It is in the interest of the international community to ensure that all actors abide by their international obligations and commitments and not indulge in practices that could have potentially disruptive effects on global supply chains and trade in ICT products,.

Report released by the International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS) assessed the cyber-power of 15 countries. It graded India as a “third-tier” cyber-power that had focussed its cyber intelligence and offensive capabilities too narrowly on Pakistan, and not other global threats further afield.

House panel questions Twitter #GS3 #SnT

The Standing Committee on Information and Technology has sought an explanation from social media giant Twitter on why accounts of IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and committee Chairperson Shashi Tharoor were locked.

In a meeting held, representatives from Google and Facebook appeared before the committee on the subject of ‘Safeguarding citizens’ rights and prevention of misuse of social/online news media platforms, including special emphasis on women’s security in the digital space’.

Sources said the committee members discussed the new IT rules with the representatives of both platforms. Both Facebook and Google have said that they will comply with the new IT rules. “They said that they will comply with the new IT rules, as much as they can,” one of the members said. Facebook pointed out that it was technically impossible to intercept messages in WhatsApp.

The new rules mandate tracing the origin of a particular message if required by the law enforcement agencies. Facebook explained that WhatsApp works on end-to-end encryption. It only sweeps metadata and no messages are intercepted or read.

Earlier in the day, Facebook announced that complying with the IT rules, it would publish an interim report on the content it had removed proactively between May 15 and June 15. The new rules, which came into force on May 26, mandate large social media companies to publish periodic compliance reports every month, mentioning the details of complaints received and action taken.

Non-compliance with the IT rules would result in these platforms losing their intermediary status that provides them immunity from liabilities over any third-party data hosted by them and gives them immunity from criminal culpability.

Follow Health Ministry advisory till July 31: Centre #GS3 #SnT #GS2 #Governance

The Union Home Ministry on Tuesday asked the States and the Union Territories to consider implementation of targeted and prompt actions for COVID-19 management in accordance with the latest Health Ministry advisory, till July 31.

According to the order, issued under the Disaster Management Act, the national directives for COVID-19 management, as specified in the Health Ministry advisory dated June 28, will continue to be strictly followed throughout the country.

“All the District Magistrates shall strictly enforce the above measures. For the enforcement of social distancing, State/UT governments may, as far as possible, use the provisions of Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code,” the directive said.

Any person violating the measures will be liable to be proceeded against under Section 51 to 60 of the Disaster Management Act, besides legal action under Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code, and other legal provisions as applicable.

Close monitoring

In another letter, Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla said that with a decline in the number of active cases, many States and Union Territories had started relaxing restrictions.

However, the process should be carefully calibrated, he wrote. They should closely monitor case positivity and bed occupancy, taking district as an administrative unit. On witnessing any early signs of increase in case positivity and higher bed occupancy, necessary action should be taken for containment and upgrade of health infrastructure. For the districts with high positivity and higher bed occupancy, imposing restrictions may be considered.

The States and the Union Territories have been asked to monitor the districts with higher numbers of active cases per million population, as it is an important indicator to predict the need for upgrading health infrastructure and logistics. There should be a continuous focus on the five-fold strategy — test-track-treat-vaccination and adherence to COVID-19 appropriate behaviour, said the letter.

Tracking the digital divide in Kolkata #GS1 #Society

About 40% primary school students could not attend online classes during the COVID-19 pandemic owing to the digital divide, a report published by Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen’s Pratichi (India) Trust found. The study was compiled on the basis of experiences shared by hundreds of teachers across 21 State-run primary schools in Kolkata. The 72-page report highlights the issues faced by students in accessing digital teaching learning.

Devices and data

“There are two components to the digital divide — one is affordability, and whether the families of students can afford devices that are required for digital learning. The second issue is regular accessibility of uninterrupted data, which again has an element of expenditure,” Sabir Ahamed, national research coordinator, Pratichi (India) Trust, and one of the authors of the report said.

The findings are based on experiences over six months during the first wave of the pandemic (April to November 2020) shared by primary school teachers.

“So long, the focus was on enrolling as many students as possible and reducing the number of missing children, but the pandemic has brought a situation where the school has gone missing. The other contributors to the report include Manabi Majumdar, Urba Chaudhuri, Kakali Das De and Sutapa Ghosh.

The report focused on children enrolled in Classes 1 to 5. While schools continued to provide dry rations regularly as a supplement to cooked mid-day meals, teachers have reported nutritional deficiency. Though more families of school students sought dry rations, the researchers feel that the rations were distributed among family members, and in some cases, the child’s nutritional needs were not met.

Also, during the period surveyed, Kolkata witnessed one of the worst cyclones of the past few decades when Amphan battered south Bengal on May 20, 2020. For more than a couple of weeks, the entire teaching-learning process came to a complete halt due to the lack of digital connectivity.

“The report provides us with an understanding of how students are left in the digital teaching learning process. If 40% could not access digital classes in Kolkata, one can imagine the situation in remote areas of the State.

OPEC risks forcing India to tap Iran for oil if prices stay high’ #GS3 #Economy

Ahead of a crucial OPEC meeting on July 1, India’s Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Dharmendra Pradhan said he was working to persuade oil exporting countries to moderate surging oil prices and warned that high prices would push the country to tap alternative import sources such as Iran.

Stressing that inflation was a major challenge for the economy, Mr. Pradhan said India had already, over the last few months, exhausted the strategic petroleum reserves it had built up last year by taking advantage of lower oil prices. “India is a very price-sensitive market. With utmost politeness, I have got my own spending behaviour. If somebody is planning our Budget is 80$(a barrel)-driven, then I am sorry. My affordability is the primary thing for me.

He also said India would choose options offering competitive prices within its ‘global diplomatic framework’, including Iran if the sanctions imposed on it by the U.S. were lifted. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies (OPEC+) are expected to discuss a possible easing of supply cuts, amid a rebound in global demand, on July 1.

With retail prices for petrol crossing Rs. 100 a litre in several States, Mr. Pradhan conceded that ‘today’s price is very challenging’. I am persuading my friends in OPEC… I hope the price will be a little bit sober,” he said. The Minister also expressed confidence that the demand for petroleum products would return to pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2021.

Lanka ‘banking on’ $1 bn India swap deal #GS3 #Economy

Sri Lanka is “banking on” a $1 billion currency swap from India to meet its debt repayment obligations this year and tide over the current economic crisis. The island nation has already serviced part of its debt this year, and is preparing to repay the remaining more than $3 billion over the next six months, officials said. With an international sovereign bond maturing soon, a $1 billion repayment is due in July.

“We are expecting a $400 million swap from the Reserve Bank of India in a couple of months through the SAARC facility,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity given the sensitivity of the ongoing bilateral negotiations. “But the additional $1 billion is going to be crucial for us,

Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had in May 2020 asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi for a “special” $1.1-billion currency swap to help the country boost its foreign reserves. It has been more than a year… it is a decision that has to be taken by the political leadership in India, it is beyond the RBI.

While official sources in New Delhi earlier indicated that negotiations on the issue were “ongoing”, the Indian government is yet to respond to both President Rajapaksa’s request, as well as Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s February 2020 request for a debt freeze, even as bilateral talks have continued at high levels.

On June 21, Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena, held a telephone conversation with his counterpart S. Jaishankar, during which they agreed to co-operate on “common issues in the region”, Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement. The release made no mention of Colombo’s pending requests for economic assistance.

Meanwhile, the Governor of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka on Tuesday said in a statement that the country was focussed on managing its debt service obligations this year. Sri Lanka’s gross official reserves currently stand at $4 billion, excluding the “standby” about $1.5 billion swap agreement with the People’s Bank of China.

On inflows, Governor W. D. Lakshman said a $250 million swap from the Bangladesh Bank was expected in July and the $400 million SAARC facility from the RBI was expected in August.

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