Current Affairs 10th April 2022

President bats for mediation as a dispute resolution tool #GS2 #Governance

President Ram Nath Kovind on Saturday advocated the concept of mediation in the judicial process and said it is yet to find widespread acceptance due to certain bottlenecks, adding that all stakeholders should display a positive attitude to achieve the desired result.

“Truly speaking, in mediation, everyone is a winner. Having said that, one has to admit that the concept is yet to find widespread acceptance across the country. Not enough trained mediators are available at some places,” he said.

Addressing the two-day National Judicial Conference on Mediation and Information Technology organised at Kevadia in Gujarat, Mr. Kovind said the misconception among lawyers about mediation being a “threat to their profession” has largely been removed in the last two decades. All stakeholders have recognised mediation as “an effective tool for dispute resolution,” he added.

The President also praised the top court’s mediation and conciliation project commission which has started imparting mediation training for dispute resolution.

The President added the topmost objective of switching the justice delivery system to information and communication technology (ICT) should be for improvement of access to justice and justice delivery.

“What we are aiming at is not change for sake of change, but change for the sake of a better world,” he said. The two-day conference is being attended by the Chief Justice of India, the Union Law and Justice Minister, Gujarat Governor and CM and others.

High time for ADR mechanisms: CJI #GS2 #Governance

Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana stressed the need for increasing the use of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) mechanisms that can change the judicial landscape, bringing justice to millions and settling grievances without protracted legal proceedings.

Speaking on the significance of mediation as an ADR mechanism, Chief Justice urged that an “active effort must be taken by courts to make negotiations and mediation mandatory as part of case management.”

The CJI was speaking at all India two-day conference on Mediation and Information Technology at the Statue of Unity in Gujarat. “The concept of ADR, through Lok Adalats, Gram Nyayalayas, mediation and arbitration centres, has the potential to transform the legal landscape of India by providing millions of people a platform to settle their grievances,” the CJI said.

Justice Ramana also spoke on ‘FASTER’, a digital platform recently launched by the Supreme Court for fast and secured delivery of urgent court orders in encrypted electronic format to the stakeholders, as well as live streaming of court proceedings.

Offering freebies is a policy call of a political party: ECI #GS2 Governance

Offering or distributing freebies either before or after an election is a policy decision of a political party, the Election Commission of India (ECI) has told the Supreme Court.

The poll body was replying to a petition filed by advocate Ashwini Upadhyay that the promise and distribution of “irrational freebies” by political parties amounted to bribery and unduly influencing voters. It vitiated free and fair elections in the country, the petition said.

But the ECI adopted a hands-off approach, saying “whether such policies are financially viable or have adverse effect on the economic health of the State is a question that has to be considered and decided by the voters of the State”.

The election body said it cannot regulate policies and decisions that may be taken by the winning party when they form the government.

“Such an action, without enabling provisions of law, would be an overreach of powers,” the ECI said in its affidavit.

The ECI referred to the top court’s own decision in the S. Subramaniam Balaji case that the poll body cannot intervene in promises made in election manifestos released by parties before the announcement of the election dates, after which the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) kicked in.

Parties consulted

It said new MCC guidelines were framed in consultation with political parties, keeping in mind the potential influence freebies may have on a level playing field. A letter from the ECI had even advised parties to submit their declarations along with copies of manifestos.

The ECI did not agree with Mr. Upadhyay’s plea to seize the election symbols of parties which promise gifts. The lawyer had wanted an additional condition that “a political party shall not promise/distribute irrational freebies from the public funds before election” to be inserted in the Election Symbols Order of 1968.

The recognition and continuation of state and national parties are based on one touchstone — electoral performance, the ECI countered.

“Barring parties from promising/distributing freebies from public funds before election may result in a situation where parties will lose their recognition even before they display their electoral performance in elections,” the ECI reasoned.

It said parties can be de-registered only if they had registered through fraud or forgery or if they were declared illegal by the Centre or if they had stopped abiding by the Indian Constitution.

However, the ECI said it has been, for years, appealing to the Centre to arm it with the powers to deregister political parties. In a letter to the Law Minister in July 1998, the Chief Election Commissioner had said that out of over 650 parties registered with the ECI, only 150 or so contested elections in 1998.

The letter was referred to in another communication in July 2004 when the ECI had sent a set of 22 proposals for electoral reforms, including powers to deregister political parties.

Improved GSLV to be ready by this year #GS3 #SnT

The Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) with improvements added to its cryogenic upper stage (CUS) is expected to be ready in the second half of this year.

A high-level panel which examined last year’s failed GSLV-F10/EOS-03 mission had recommended measures for making the CUS more robust. Indian Space Research Organisation’s Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre (LPSC) is tasked with making the required modifications to the cryogenic engine-powered upper stage of the GSLV Mk II rocket.

A senior official of the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC), ISRO’s lead unit on launch vehicles, says the next GSLV flight will be held once the modifications are incorporated.

The GSLV-F10 mission on August 12, 2021 was designed to place the earth observation satellite EOS-03 in a geosynchronous transfer orbit, but the upper stage of the rocket malfunctioned, forcing the space agency to abort the mission. A national-level Failure Analysis Committee (FAC) later concluded that a leak in a Vent and Relief Valve (VRV) had led to a lower build-up of pressure in the Liquid Hydrogen (LH2) propellant tank, leading to a failed mission.

To avoid leaks

Modifications planned include a mechanism to ensure sufficient pressure in the tank before the engine burns and strengthening of the VRV to avoid leaks.

On Thursday, Union Minister of State (Independent Charge) Science & Technology Jitendra Singh informed the Rajya Sabha in a written reply that computer simulations as well as multiple ground tests, “closely simulating the conditions in the GSLV-F10 flight, had validated the analysis of the FAC.” He points out that the satellite for the next GSLV mission is expected to be ready for launch in the fourth quarter of 2022 and the mission failure is not likely to delay “related projects”.

The FAC, whose report was published in March, points to a leak in the VRV as the underlying reason for the failure. Pressure build-up in the liquid hydrogen (LH2) propellant tank was low when the upper stage engine was to ignite. This caused the fuel booster turbo pump inside the LH2 tank, which feeds the main turbo pump of the engine to malfunction, affecting the flow of propellant into the engine thrust chamber.

Code red #GS3 #Environment

The story so far: In its latest assessment report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has laid out several scenarios on the steps that ought to be taken to keep temperatures below 2°C. It warned that even temporarily exceeding the warming level of 1.5°C over the next two decades would mean additional severe impact, some irreversible.

How is this report prepared?

Scientists from around the world including India are part of the Working Group III of the IPCC. They analyse the various interventions that can be made to ensure that temperature rise by the end of the century is minimal. The group does this by assessing the most credible, updated literature on the scientific, technological, environmental, economic and social aspects of mitigating the impact of climate change. This specific group studies social developments, such as decisions taken at the annual Conference of Parties (COP), progress on clean energy technologies and availability of finance.

Placing the data in the context of climate science, the scientists analyse the role played by various groups such as forest communities, indigenous tribes and businesses, in addressing climate change and finally recommend steps that must be taken over three periods: until 2030, until 2050 and until 2100, on what needs to be done to limit temperature rise.

A key part of the report, called the Summary for Policymakers, was approved by 195 member-governments of the IPCC, through a virtual approval session that started on March 21. The latest report is the third instalment of the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report (AR6), which will be completed this year.

What are the key messages?

Total net anthropogenic GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions have continued to rise from 2010–2019, as have cumulative net CO2 emissions since 1850. Average annual GHG emissions during 2010-2019 were higher than in any previous decade, but the rate of growth between 2010 and 2019 was lower than that between 2000 and 2009. By 2019, the largest growth in absolute emissions occurred in carbon dioxide from fossil fuels and industry followed by methane.

The per-unit costs of several low-emission technologies have fallen continuously since 2010, however innovation has lagged in developing countries due to weak enabling conditions. Even if countries adhered to their promises towards reducing emissions, called Nationally Determined Contributions, warming will still exceed 1.5°C during the 21st century. Keeping warming below 2°C would then rely on a rapid acceleration of mitigation efforts after 2030.

Tracked financial flows were still falling short of the levels needed to achieve mitigation goals across all sectors and regions. The challenge of closing gaps was largest in developing countries as a whole. Increasing financial flows can be supported by clear policy choices and signals from governments and the international community, it said.

According to the scientists, limiting warming to around 1.5°C requires global greenhouse gas emissions to peak before 2025 at the latest and be reduced by 43% by 2030; at the same time, methane would also need to be reduced by about a third. Even if this happened, it is almost inevitable that this ceiling would be temporarily breached but, with appropriate action, it could again dip by the end of the century.

The global temperature will stabilise when carbon dioxide emissions reach net zero. For 1.5°C, this meant achieving net zero carbon dioxide emissions globally in the early 2050s; for 2°C, it is in the early 2070s. Even limiting warming to around 2°C would still require global greenhouse gas emissions to peak before 2025 at the latest and be reduced by a quarter by 2030, the report stressed.

What are the implications of this report for India?

The report’s warning against opening new coal plants is of relevance to India. The panel finds that all coal-fired power plants, without the technology to capture and store carbon (CCS), would need to be shuttered by 2050 if the world aspired to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C. According to the Central Electricity Authority, India had about 211 GW of operational coal-fired power plants — roughly 10% of global capacity.

As per Global Energy Monitor data, another 31 GW was being constructed and about 24 GW in various pre-construction phases. None of the existing under construction coal-fired power plants in India have CCS facilities. India has committed to a net-zero year, or when it would cease to be a CO2 emitter, of 2070 and has defined a pathway to transition to renewable energy sources but also insisted on its right to coal use given its developmental needs as well underlining that the historical responsibility of climate change from fossil fuel rested with the developed countries, who needed to shoulder much of the mitigating burden. The Centre has “welcomed” the report and said it recognises India’s position that developed countries must do more to mitigate climate change.

The report’s warning on coal plants is relevant to India. All coal plants, without the technology to capture and store carbon, will need to be shuttered by 2050 to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C, it says

Has Mullaperiyar dam panel been changed? #GS2 #Governance

The story so far: On April 8, the Supreme Court ordered the reconstitution of the Mullaperiyar dam’s supervisory committee, which will include one technical expert each from Tamil Nadu and Kerala (the two States involved in the dispute concerning safety of the dam), and empowered the panel with functions and powers on par with those of the National Dam Safety Authority (NDSA), a body envisaged under the Dam Safety Act, 2021.

What is the dispute?

Located in Idukki district of Kerala, the 126-year-old Mullaperiyar dam is owned, operated and maintained by Tamil Nadu for several purposes, including irrigation, drinking water supply and hydro-power generation. In late 1979, after the eruption of the controversy over the structural stability of the dam, it was decided at a tripartite meeting that the water level be lowered to 136 feet against the full reservoir level of 152 feet so that Tamil Nadu could take up strengthening measures.

In view of execution of a large portion of the measures, the Supreme Court, in 2006 and 2014, held that the water level be raised to 142 feet, up to which Tamil Nadu stored water even last year. The court’s judgment of 2014 also provided for the formation of the supervisory committee and the completion of the remaining work by Tamil Nadu.

But, there has been no end to litigation over the dam with Kerala witnessing landslides in recent years. Though there had been no reports of landslides in the vicinity of the dam site, the events in other parts of the State led to a renewed campaign against the dam. The Kerala government proposed that the existing dam be decommissioned and a fresh one be built, the options of which are not completely acceptable to Tamil Nadu which wants to complete the remaining strengthening work and restore the level to 152 feet.

Why was the Dam Safety Act framed? How does it affect Mullaperiyar?

The Central government had mooted a bill on dam safety on account of the absence of a proper dam safety institutional framework. The Dam Safety Act, 2021, which came into force last December, deals with the subjects of surveillance, inspection, operation and maintenance of stipulated dams across the country, all of which hold relevance to the Mullaperiyar dam.

Broadly, the law, which holds dam owners responsible for the construction, operation, maintenance, and supervision of dams, has designed two sets of bodies, one at the level of the Union government and another at the level of States. The National Committee on Dam Safety (NCDS) would devise dam safety policies and recommend necessary regulations while the NDSA would implement policies and address unresolved issues between States, apart from being the regulatory body.

At the other level, the State Dam Safety Organisation and State Committees on Dam Safety have been envisaged. There is one more function attached to the NDSA, by which the NDSA would assume the role of a State Dam Safety Organisation for a dam located in one State and owned and operated by another. This is why Mullaperiyar comes under the law’s purview.

What has the Supreme Court ruled?

Apart from vesting the supervisory committee with powers and functions of the NDSA, the court has empowered it to decide on all outstanding matters related to the safety of the dam and conduct a fresh review of its safety. For any act of failure, “appropriate action” will be taken against the persons concerned not only for having violated the directions of the court but also under the Act, which talks of one year imprisonment or fine or both for refusal to comply with directions of bodies formed under the law. As required by the Supreme Court in its latest order, the two States are expected to nominate, within two weeks, one representative each to the supervisory committee, in addition to one nominee each.

Is it difficult to diagnose the XE variant? #GS3 #SnT

The story so far: In a field plagued by rapid developments, Tuesday brought more drama. Brihanmumbai Corporation declared that it had detected the country’s first XE recombinant variant of SARS-CoV-2, a claim that was, not long after, contested by the Union Health Ministry. In a statement, it said: “FastQ files in respect of the sample, which is being said to be ‘XE’ variant, were analysed in detail by genomic experts of INSACOG, who have inferred that the genomic constitution of this variant does not correlate with the genomic picture of ‘XE’ variant.” At the end of the day it was agreed that Mumbai would send the sample to an INSACOG laboratory — the National Institute of Biomedical Genomics — for further analysis.

What was the cause for varying diagnosis?
Some media reports quoted BMC officials as saying that the sequence generated from the sample was in line with GISAID data. GISAID provides open access to genomic data for the coronavirus strains and variants. However, experts at INSACOG (The Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium) working with data sent to them by Mumbai, averred that the variant was not genomically similar to the XE variant. Final results are still awaited. V. Ravi, virologist and core committee member of INSACOG, says the competence required to interpret data is extremely high, and unless that is available, a misinterpretation might occur. The sample was not tested at any INSACOG lab, which has the necessary competence to identify a variant, based on the data generated from a genome sequence.

Genome sequencing is a tool or process used to decipher the genetic material in an organism, in order to identify and classify it, and study the characteristics of the disease it might cause, thereby impacting mitigation strategies.Dr. Ravi says the machine throws up a humongous amount of data, and the key is to interpret it properly. In an article in The Conversation, U.S. based researchers, Alexander Sundermann, Lee Harrison and Vaughn Cooper, break down the process of genome sequencing for readers. “Genome sequencing involves deciphering the order of the nucleotide molecules that spell out a particular virus’s genetic code. For the coronavirus, that genome contains a string of around 30,000 nucleotides. Each time the virus replicates, errors are made. These mistakes in the genetic code are called mutations.”

Special labs sequence, curate, analyse lab results and using software interpret the data generated, studying the errors in the sequence to draw data-backed conclusions about the variants.

The XE is a recombinant variant, a mutant that the World Health Organization flagged, as having a possible 10x transmission compared to Omicron. Variants occur with continued transmission of the virus, as it replicates itself multiple times. It is said the XE emerged after co-infection from Omicron BA.1 and BA.2 variants at the same time, a condition that leads to mixing of genetic material inside the human body. It was first detected in the U.K. in January and since then over 600 cases have been identified.

What goes into making interpretations from genome sequencing?
Dr. Ravi explains the process that occurs in the lab, after the RNA strand is isolated and sequenced. For COVID-19, a 30,000 nucleotide string is generated. “If there is 98% coverage, we accept the sequence. What comes next is something called depth — we need to see multiple such readings particularly in the region of the mutation, in this case, the XE. When all this is present, then we feed this through the advanced software which will confirm the result.”

Since data is now available on the genome sequence of all the variants of SARS-CoV-2, almost as soon as they are sequenced, it will be easy to correlate the results to known patterns generated in the original genome sequence. However, gene experts insist that it all rests in the way the data is read and interpreted.

What is the way forward?
Dr. Ravi says the way forward for States who have suspicions about strains of SARS-CoV-2 is to send the sample to any INSACOG laboratory for verification, and confirmation that the genome sequence is in line with what is described for the XE variant. Confirmation in an INSACOG lab is essential before any announcement, he adds.