Current Affairs 10th April

Vaccinations go down as States face shortage #GS3 #SnT

Amid the surging second wave of COVID-19 infections across the country, the States are grappling with a vaccine shortage, with several running vaccination centres below capacity and demanding that the Centre give them stocks to last at least seven days.

With India administering 30-40 lakh doses daily, this suggests that existing stocks would be available for 10-13 days, though there is considerable variation within the States in the number of doses being made available.

The Co-Win portal discloses real-time information on the doses administered by the States, but does not clarify on their existing stocks. For the past three days, Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and Cabinet Ministers have been sending SOS to the Centre to replenish vaccine stocks.

Odisha’s Chief Secretary said the State, while prepared to inoculate more than 3 lakh daily, had to shut down two-thirds of its vaccination centres because of “lack of supply” and that several districts were in “stock-out” situation and unable to continue the vaccination programme.

Odisha has been vaccinating nearly 1.5 lakh to 2.5 lakh persons daily since March 31, but has registered a sharp dip since April 6, when numbers plummeted to as low as 83,000.

A presentation made to the Prime Minister’s Office, however, had a slide that said the States have four to eight days of vaccine doses “at any given moment”. This allocation is done by the Centre based on the “production, supply chain and inventory”. Fresh supplies are given every third or fourth day or seventh or eighth, according to the presentation.

Six crore doses of Covishield produced by the Serum Institute of India (SII) and one crore doses of Covaxin by Bharat Biotech are available every month. However, SII chief executive officer Adar Poonawala has said that of the 6.5 crore-odd monthly supply, some portion is farmed out for exports to meet contractual obligations — the exact break-up being unclear.

People are free to choose religion: SC #GS2 #Governance

The Supreme Court said people are free to choose their religion, even as it lashed out at a “very, very harmful kind” of “public interest” petition claiming there is mass religious conversion happening “by hook or by crook” across the country.

Justice Nariman reminded Mr. Upadhyay of the fundamental right under Article 25 of the Constitution to freely profess, practise and propagate religion, subject to public order, morality and health. “Why do you think there is the word ‘propagate’?” Justice Nariman asked the petitioner.

Religious conversion is being done through a “carrot-and-stick” approach, Mr. Uapdhyay had claimed in his petition. Justice Nariman said every person is the final judge of his/her choice of religion or who their life partner should be. Courts cannot sit in judgment of a person’s choice of religion or life partner.

Religious faith is a part of the fundamental right to privacy. Justice Nariman reminded Mr. Upadhyay of the Constitution Bench judgment which upheld inviolability of the right to privacy, equating it with the rights to life, of dignity and liberty.

Mr. Upadhyay’s petition was dismissed as withdrawn. His pleas to approach the Law Commission or the High Court with the petition was not expressly allowed by the Bench.

India protests U.S. naval exercise #GS2 #IR

India said it has protested the U.S. decision to conduct a patrol in the Indian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the western Indian Ocean, rejecting the U.S.’s claim that its domestic maritime law was in violation of international law.

In a rare and unusual public statement, the U.S. Navy announced that its ship, USS John Paul Jones, had carried out Freedom of Navigation Operation (FONOP) in the Indian EEZ, adding that its operations had “challenged” what the U.S. called India’s “excessive maritime claims”.

“ USS John Paul Jones asserted navigational rights and freedoms approximately 130 nautical miles west of the Lakshadweep Islands, inside India’s exclusive economic zone, without requesting India’s prior consent, consistent with international law,” the U.S. Navy’s 7th fleet said in a statement on April 7.

“India requires prior consent for military exercises or manoeuvres in its exclusive economic zone or continental shelf, a claim inconsistent with international law.” This FONOP upheld the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea recognised in international law by challenging India’s excessive maritime claims.

We conduct routine and regular FONOPs, as we have done in the past and will continue to in the future. FONOPs are not about one country, nor are they about making political statements.

Centre steps in to roll back fertilizer prices #GS3 #Economy

A day after fertilizer producers announced a sharp 46% to 58.33% hike in prices citing higher raw material costs, the Central government intervened on Friday to ensure a rollback even though fertilizer prices are no longer regulated.

Union Minister of State for Chemicals and Fertilizers Mansukh Mandaviya said prices would remain unchanged for now, after a “high-level” meeting was held with the major fertilizer companies.

Opposition parties had termed the “unprecedented” hikes an insult to farmers protesting against the new agricultural laws. U.S. Awasthi, CEO of the country’s largest fertilizer producer, IFFCO, stressed that the hikes were necessitated by a global surge in raw material costs.

Nod required for exercises: India #GS2 #IR

The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said in a statement that the Government of India’s stated position on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is that the Convention “does not authorise other States to carry out in the EEZ and on the continental shelf, military exercises or manoeuvres, in particular those involving the use of weapons or explosives, without the consent of the coastal state”.

The MEA was responding to a statement by the U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet on April 7 that its ship the USS John Paul Jones had carried out Freedom of Navigation Operation (FONOP) in the Indian EEZ in the western Indian Ocean.

India requires prior consent for military exercises or manoeuvres in its exclusive economic zone or continental shelf, a claim inconsistent with international law.

Continuously monitored

Stating that the USS John Paul Jones was “continuously monitored” transiting from the Persian Gulf towards the Malacca Straits, the MEA added, “We have conveyed our concerns regarding this passage through our EEZ to the Government of U.S.A through diplomatic channels.”

As per the annual FONOP reports released by the U.S. Department of Defence for each fiscal year, the U.S. has been regularly conducting FONOPs in Indian EEZ. The U.S. similarly carries out FONOPs against several other countries including its allies and partners. From 2007 onwards till 2017, the U.S. carried out multiple FONOPs every year challenging “excessive” Indian maritime claims.

A South Block official, on condition of anonymity, said it is only when it is “military manoeuvres” in our EEZ that we need nations to seek our permission and not if you are simply transiting through. And, the term military manoeuvres is not defined anywhere.

A second official, also on condition of anonymity, said it was the statement issued on the FONOP which was surprising more than the FONOP itself.

Commenting on the development, former Navy chief Adm. Arun Prakash tweeted: “While India ratified UNCLOS in 1995, the U.S. has failed to do it so far. For the 7th Fleet to carry out FoNOPs missions in Indian EEZ in violation of our domestic law is bad enough. But publicising it? USN please switch on IFF (Identification, friend or foe)!”

Raising an important issue, Adm. Prakash said FONOPs by U.S. Navy ships, “ineffective as they may be,” in South China Sea (SCS), are meant to “convey a message to China that the putative EEZ” around the artificial SCS islands is an “excessive maritime claim.”

India, China hold talks again #GS2 #IR

The 11th round of the Corps Commander talks are under way between India and China to work out an agreement for the second phase of disengagement in Eastern Ladakh. Talks were still on at the time of going to print. The focus of the talks is disengagement from the patrolling points (PP) at Gogra and Hot Springs.

In February, the two sides completed the first phase of disengagement on the north and the south banks of Pangong Tso based on a written agreement. The 10th round was held within 48 hours after the process was completed where both sides agreed to push for a mutually acceptable solution of the remaining issues in a “steady and orderly” manner to jointly maintain peace and tranquillity in the border areas.

Pangong Tso has been the major issue since the standoff began last May after the Chinese troops made ingress into Indian territory at several locations in Eastern Ladakh. With Pangong Tso having been resolved, the focus now is to work out a phased disengagement plan for the other friction areas.

They include Gogra, Hot Springs, Depsang and Demchok. After this, the de-escalation along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) would be taken up to pull back the thousands of troops deployed by both sides.

M.S. Swaminathan felicitated for work towards TB eradication #GS2 #Governance

Eminent agricultural scientist M.S. Swaminathan was felicitated on Friday for his contribution towards eradication of tuberculosis.

REACH, a Chennai-based non-profit organisation working towards eradicating TB for over two decades, organised a virtual event at which Professor Swaminathan, who was its founding chair, was felicitated. Since the organisation’s inception in 1998, he has instilled the need for a more holistic approach to TB by engaging communities and the private sector, a press release said.

Speaking at the event, Professor Swaminathan pointed out the three steps to tackle an issue as crucial as TB — the first was to identify the problem, then to understand the nature of the issue and third, to mobilise and organise people to work together towards the common goal of TB elimination.

The two most interesting aspects about Professor Swaminathan’s approach to issues, be it hunger or a disease like TB, are that he thinks big — he wants to eliminate hunger, eliminate tuberculosis, and in order to implement the vision, he works out the steps, policies and programmes in an evidence-based framework.”

Soumya Swaminathan, Chief Scientist, World Health Organisation, said that TB elimination needed more than a biomedical approach; nutrition, gender and livelihood issues also need to be addressed.

“There is a lot that remains to be done to achieve TB elimination, and we are further set back due to COVID-19. We have to learn from the COVID-19 response, particularly in terms of new technologies and adapting to the situation. I hope those learnings will be taken up for TB as well.”

Live-streaming of court proceedings soon: SC judge #GS2 #Governance

Supreme Court judge and chairperson of its e-committee, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, on Friday said live-streaming of court proceedings was on the brink of becoming a reality. The judge was speaking at the inauguration of a new website for judgments and e-filing.

Justice Chandrachud used the occasion to clear the air on whether or not virtual courts had actually replaced physical courts.

The judge said the idea behind virtual court system was not to replace physical courts, but, instead, to show the “flexibility” of the Indian judicial system to ensure that access to justice was not denied even during the hardest of times.

Justice Chandrachud emphasised that the judiciary’s shift to virtual courts was primarily to protect the health and lives of judges, lawyers, court staff and litigants.

“The idea is to show the flexibility of the Indian Judicial system. Not for a moment do we want to replace the physical hearing. But we are conscious of the need to protect the public health of our lawyers, litigants who come to our country or across the country.

“We don’t put the burden of obtaining access to justice on citizens and lawyers. We take that burden and responsibility on ourselves.

Vaccines aimed at curbing severe COVID-19, say experts #GS3 #SnT

COVID-19 vaccines are not infection-preventing but disease-modifier vaccines, said Samiran Panda, member of the government’s National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for Covid-19 (NEGVAC). Dr. Panda was speaking to The Hindu on apprehensions about using a vaccine that isn’t 100% effective in disease prevention.

He said both the vaccines now available in India now will prevent the asymptomatic stage from moving into symptomatic stage and from symptomatic stage to developing severe disease where one requires intensive care. The vaccines also help in reducing the number of deaths significantly, he noted.

“Scientifically, it is proven that the efficacy of both the vaccines available in India is more than 70-80% . The World Health Organisation recommends that any vaccine with a 50% efficacy will be useful in a pandemic time. So, people should not be hesitant about taking the vaccine,” said Director General of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) Shekhar Mande.

Dr. Mande further explained that there have been odd cases of people developing COVID after vaccination.

“There could be two explanations for this. One that these could be people who fall into those 20-30% groups who don’t get protection through a vaccine and second, these people develop an infection but the intensity of the infection remains lower. We have seen a significant reduction in hospitalisation and mortality among vaccinated people,” he said.

Currently, we do not have published evidence on the duration of protection these vaccines offer. However, the lack of published papers about duration of protection of vaccines is not to be interpreted as that vaccine protection is short.

An effective vaccine lowers the chance of getting the disease if the person encounters the virus and all the currently authorised vaccines are highly efficacious at preventing serious illness, hospitalization and death, said Rajiv Dasgupta, member, government’s National Adverse Effects Following Immunization Committee.

He added that based on the real-world experience, the vaccine is effective for at least six months. “At this point the duration of full protection is unknown but booster doses are likely to be necessary; it is still not clear though whether it’ll be an annual vaccination like the flu shots.

Warning that not getting vaccinated puts people at a disadvantage in the future, Director of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology Rakesh Mishra, said right now the available vaccines work on the variants of COVID, “but if we don’t get ahead of the virus, mutations will continue and we may arrive at a stage that the mutations no longer respond to the available vaccines”.

Bhutan, China to schedule boundary discussions soon #GS2 #IR

Bhutan and China have agreed to set up the next round of much-delayed boundary talks between them “as soon as possible” and discussed a roadmap for expediting the boundary resolution, a joint release of the 10th Expert Group Meeting (EGM) on the Bhutan-China Boundary held in Kunming.

The upcoming talks, the 25th round of the boundary talks mechanism, will be the first since the Doklam standoff in 2017, and the first since China made new claims on Bhutan’s eastern boundary bordering Arunachal Pradesh in June 2020.

The EGM was held in a warm and friendly atmosphere, and held in-depth and fruitful discussions on the boundary issue in keeping with the close ties of friendship and cooperation between Bhutan and China.

“The two sides agreed to continue to maintain peace and tranquillity in the border areas pending a final settlement of the boundary issue,” it added, referring to the annual boundary talk mechanism that began in 1984, and was followed by two agreements on the maintenance of peace and tranquillity along the border areas in 1988 and 1998.

Since then, 24 rounds of talks have been held, but there have been no talks scheduled since 2016, ostensibly due to tensions over the Doklam standoff between India and China over PLA transgressions in Bhutanese territory, and more recently due to the Coronavirus pandemic. The previous 9th round of the ECG was also held prior to the Doklam standoff, in April 2017 in Beijing.

The talks have thus far focused on two areas of dispute: Pasamlung and Jakarlung valleys to the North of Bhutan and Doklam to the West of Bhutan, along the tri-junction with India. However, at a UN environmental meeting in June 2020, China raised an objection to a grant for Bhutan’s Sakteng Sanctuary to the East frontier as well, saying that it was disputed as well.

In a rare public statement on the issue, the Bhutanese Embassy in Delhi, which handles relations with a number of countries including China, had said that “all disputed areas” would be discussed in the next round of boundary talks.

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