Current Affairs 22nd Oct

India crosses 100 crore COVID-19 vaccine doses #GS3 #SnT

India completed 100 crore doses of COVID-19 vaccines on Thursday, in about nine months since the drive began.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed his gratitude to doctors, nurses and all those who worked on crossing the milestone. He tweeted, “India scripts history. We are witnessing the triumph of Indian science, enterprise and collective spirit of 130 crore Indians. Congrats India on crossing 100 crore vaccinations.”

“The vaccine has brought pride and protection in the lives of our citizens,” Mr. Modi noted. He visited the Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital here and interacted with healthcare workers and people receiving the vaccine. To mark the occasion, the Union Health Ministry held a series of events and released a two-minute video on the nation’s fight against COVID-19.

Hailing the achievement, UNICEF India representative Yasmin Ali Haque said, “As Indian families recover from the recent devastating COVID-19 wave, for many, this milestone means hope.” Regional Director of WHO South-East Asia Poonam Khetrapal Singh also termed it an extraordinary feat.

SC says farmers have right to protest, but can’t block roads #GS2 #Governance

The Supreme Court on Thursday said public roads could not be blocked to hamper free movement even as farmers and the Government verbally clashed during the physical hearing, over who is responsible for the nearly two-year blockade.

Farmers, represented by senior advocate Dushyant Dave and advocate Prashant Bhushan, said roads were deliberately blocked to turn public sentiments against them. They should be allowed to enter the Ram Lila Maidan and Jantar Mantar to continue their protests against the agricultural laws.

Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta, for Haryana, reminded the court about the Red Fort violence in January that left several hundreds injured and others killed.

A Bench led by Justice S.K. Kaul acknowledged that “there is a problem with movement, we are not going to accept there is no problem”. It stated that a solution needed to be found for the nearly two-year impasse between farmers and the Government.

Shaheen Bagh case

The court noted that it had laid down the law in the Shaheen Bagh protests case that the right to protest should not hamper the right to movement of the public. Justice Kaul observed, “The law is laid down. There is no reason for the SC to lay down the law again and again… Ultimately, some solutions have to be found — roads cannot be blocked…”

Mr. Dave contended that the right to protest was a fundamental right. The roads were blocked by the police. The government’s view on violence by protesters seemed to be skewed. He asked why farmers were not being allowed at Jantar Mantar when Tuesday saw massive protests organised by the BJP in the area over the attack on Hindus in Bangladesh during Durga Puja. “The solution is allow us to agitate at Jantar Mantar…”

Mr. Mehta submitted, “Last time they came, it became a serious issue… something much more than a serious issue”. He insinuated that “sometimes it is felt the farmers’ agitation is not for the cause but for something else…”

PM to attend climate meet in Glasgow #GS3 #Environment

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will travel to Glasgow on October 31 to attend the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26), India has conveyed to the British Government this week. The decision comes even as climate negotiation delegations from the United States, the European Union and the United Kingdom travelled to Delhi to discuss India’s climate goals.

Mr. Modi and U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson are expected to jointly launch the “one world, one solar, one grid” initiative at the summit where at least 120 world leaders have confirmed their attendance.

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss will land in Delhi on Friday, and will meet with Environment Minister Bhupendra Yadav to finalise details of Mr. Modi’s programme.

Meanwhile, a senior U.S. delegation led by Robert Blake, a retired diplomat appointed by U.S. Special Envoy John Kerry to coordinate with India on the climate financing and clean energy partnership, is also in Delhi for talks with the Environment Ministry.

On his previous two visits to India, Mr. Kerry had pressed hard for India to update its climate goals, as only a few countries have done thus far after the Paris climate accord, and also to announce a deadline for phasing out coal and achieving a “Net Zero” carbon emission target.

Mr. Blake’s visit coincides with that of European Union Executive Vice President for the “European Green Deal” Frans Timmerman, who has been in Delhi for the International Solar Alliance.

‘A positive sign’

Mr. Modi’s decision to attend the summit in Glasgow, where he will fly directly from the G-20 summit in Rome (October 30-31) is seen as a positive sign that India will announce an updated plan at the conference, diplomats said. India was expected to update its Nationally Determined Commitments (NDCs) to reflect its ambition to install 450 GW of renewable energy by 2030, but the deadline for submitting updated NDCs to the United Nations, ahead of the Glasgow summit, was passed on October 12 without the announcement.

“The truth is, apart from China, India, as a growing economy, and a major contributor to carbon emissions, is also the most important country in terms of ensuring the world meets its deadlines on countering climate change, and all eyes are on the clear time-bound commitments Prime Minister Modi will make at the COP26 in Glasgow,” a western diplomat told The Hindu , explaining the rush of delegations to Delhi this week.

Both Mr. Kerry and COP-26 President-Designate from the U.K., Alok Sharma, have also made two visits each to India this year with this on the agenda.

Independent analysts say that the West’s insistence on net zero targets could mean differences will emerge at the meeting in Glasgow.

“For the developed world, significant outcomes would be net-zero pledges and enhanced NDC ambition, hard targets on coal phase-out by countries that have not done so yet, and some progress on methane reduction plans. For the developing world, it would be delivery on climate finance for both mitigation and adaptation, legacy carbon credits, technology transfers, and introducing equity in the net-zero debate.

If the developed world continues hammering on the net-zero, coal or methane reduction issues while dragging feet on climate finance, legacy carbon credits, and tech transfer issues, we could end up seeing Copenhagen 2.0

Do you want to revisit Rs. 8 lakh slab, SC asks Govt. #GS2 #Governance

The Supreme Court on Thursday asked the Government if it wants to revisit the limit of Rs. 8 lakh annual income fixed for determining the Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) category for reservation in NEET admissions for medical courses under the all-India quota.

A Bench led by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud expressed its annoyance at the Government for not filing an affidavit explaining how it reached the Rs. 8 lakh figure to identify the EWS category for grant of reservation.

“Tell us if you want to revisit the criterion or not. If you want us to discharge our duties, then we are ready to do so. We are formulating questions… you need to answer them,” Justice Chandrachud addressed Additional Solicitor-General K.M. Natraj, for the Government.

The court said it might even “stay the Government notification fixing Rs. 8 lakh for determining the EWS”.

“You cannot just pick Rs. 8 lakh out of the thin air and fix it as a criterion. There has to be some basis, some study. Tell us whether any demographic study or data was taken into account in fixing the limit. How do you arrive at this exact figure? Can the Supreme Court strike down the criterion if no study was undertaken?” the Bench asked.

In the previous hearing on October 7, the Government assured the court that it would file an affidavit on oath explaining the reasons and statistics which led to the figure of Rs. 8 lakh as the annual income criterion to identify EWS among forward classes of society for grant of 10% reservation in medical admissions under the all-India quota.

The Supreme Court’s query is significant as the One Hundred and Third Constitutional Amendment of 2019, which introduced the 10% EWS quota, is itself under challenge before a larger Bench.

The Amendment is under question for making economic criterion as the sole ground for grant of reservation benefits. The court was hearing a batch of petitions filed by NEET aspirants challenging a July 29 notification of the Centre announcing 27% quota to OBCs and 10% reservation to EWS in the All India Quota category.

The court had insisted on the affidavit though Mr. Natraj urged it to leave the “larger” issue of what led to income criterion of Rs. 8 lakh for the Constitution Bench to examine.

U.K., India joint military exercise is to keep peace and stability #GS2 #IR

As the United Kingdom’s Carrier Strike Group (CSG) gets ready for one of the biggest joint exercises — Konkan Shakti — with India’s armed forces, its aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth has an added task — it aims to strengthen military as well as cultural ties with India with an intent to “demonstrate that democracies that have similar views of the world want to work together to keep peace and stability”.

Amid reports that the joint exercise may not be appreciated by China, which could see it as an answer to its might, the CSG’s top officer said peaceful negotiations remained the only answer but like-minded nations must stand together to protect free flow of trade.

“But what is really important is the nations, I mean India, the United Kingdom and Japan and many others, in that region are maritime trading nations. Have been for hundreds of years. We rely on the free flow of trade, unencumbered and that is hugely important to us. And I think if anybody tries to stymie that or stop that, the like-minded nations would want to come together and stand against it,” Commodore Steve Moorhouse OBE, CSG Commander, told reporters onboard HMS Queen Elizabeth .

He stated that was what lot of these exercises were about. “They demonstrate that democracies that have similar views of the world want to work together to keep peace and stability. That could be in the South China Sea or the western Indian Ocean or the Gulf of Aden or the North Sea,” he observed.

Stationed 50 miles off the Mumbai coast, this is the first aircraft carrier in the world, designed from the outset to operate fifth generation combat aircraft, which will be hosting members from industry, trade, science and technology in coming days, including a chef.

“Specifically with India, there is a whole comprehensive and strategic partnership that the two Prime Ministers have signed and visioned out at Roadmap 2030. We are one part of it. I am the expert in military field. There are other areas of partnership with India that we are looking to strengthen and take forward.” Commodore Moorhouse noted.

Common protocols

Referring to the one of the biggest exercises with India, he pointed out that it was very few times that the U.K. as a nation held an exercise of maritime, land and air at the same time. “Can the British Army quickly and securely set up communication with the Indian Army? Can we do that with the Indian Navy. Traditionally speaking, we can’t.

We got to go beyond that. Common protocols are needed so that Indian ships can replenish from British ships and vice-versa. You got to have common operating procedures. No matter where you meet in the world, you can come together as an alliance, as a group of like-minded nations and look as a coherent and competent force,” he explained.

The exercise would test anti-submarine procedures, where an Indian submarine would pretend to be the enemy and the Indian and Royal Navy ships would try to find it. In addition, in air defence exercises where F-35s would attack the group, the Indian Air Force would be there. “These are the exercises where we will work together, but the forces will change the side just to increase the complexity of what we are trying to do. HMS Queen Elizabeth , commissioned on December 7, 2017, has a displacement of 65,000 tonnes.

A second ship, HMS Prince of Wales , is also in commission meaning one carrier is always available for operations. It can accommodate 40 aircraft, including F-35B fighter jets, along with a tailored mix of Merlin, Chinook, Wildcat and Apache helicopters. It is 280 meters in length, 70 meters beam and 11 meters draft. The CSK consists of the aircraft carrier, air defence destroyers, anti-submarine frigates, hunter-killer submarine and tide-class tanker RFA Fort Victoria – the replenishment ship.

64 killed in Uttarakhand floods #GS3 #DM

Home Minister Amit Shah said on Thursday that so far, 64 people had been found dead from Uttarakhand floods and more than 11 were missing. Mr. Shah, who took an aerial survey of the flood-affected region in the hill State, said that 535 people had been rescued and more than 16,000 people evacuated.

He said due to the timely weather warning by the Centre, the State government could prepare better and many lives could be saved. The Home Minister said 80% of the phone lines had been restored, but some roads had been completely washed away. “New roads will have to be constructed by cutting through the mountains. A portion of the railway track has also been washed away; efforts are on to fix it,” he said.

The Minister, flanked by Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami and Rajya Sabha member Anil Baluni, briefed the media after the aerial survey. He said the Char Dham Yatra had been resumed and none of the pilgrims were missing or killed in the floods.

“This was possible because of advance alert sent by the Centre. Alert was sent around 2.30 p.m. on October 16, mobile phone users were alerted and people were asked to stay indoors, this minimised the loss of lives,” he said.

Trekking teams

Of the two trekking teams that were missing, one had been tracked and efforts were on to rescue them, he said. Electricity has been restored in 60% of the area affected. A team of officials from the Home Ministry will soon visit the State to assess the damage. Mr. Shah said that a few days ago, Rs. 250 crore was released to the State for disaster management.

The Minister added that 17 teams of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and 60 of the State Disaster Response Force, 15 companies of the Provincial Armed Constabulary and 5,000 policemen were involved in relief and rehabilitation work.

Pakistan retained on FATF’s ‘greylist’ again #GS2 #IR

The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) on Thursday retained Pakistan in the ‘greylist’ yet again, observing that it needed to further demonstrate that investigations and prosecutions were being pursued against the senior leadership of UN-designated terror groups, which include the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

At a press meet, FATF President Marcus Pleyer said Pakistan remained under increased monitoring.

“The Pakistan Government has two concurrent action plans with a total of 34 action plan items. It has addressed or largely addressed 30 of the items. Its most recent action plan from June this year, which largely focused on money laundering deficiencies, was issued after the FATF’s regional partner APG, that is the Asia-Pacific Group, identified a number of serious issues,” said Dr. Pleyer.

Stating that Pakistan was making good progress overall on the new action plan, in which four of the seven items had been addressed or largely addressed, Dr. Pleyer said regarding the earlier action plan, which focused on terrorist financing issues and dated back to June 2018, Pakistan was still assessed to have largely addressed 26 of the 27 items. The FATF also announced the ‘greylisting’ of Jordan, Mali and Turkey, following the conclusion of the Plenary session.

At the previous Plenary in June, the FATF had kept Pakistan in the list of “jurisdictions under increased monitoring” owing to its failure in prosecuting the top operatives of the Security Council-designated terror groups.

“The FATF recognises Pakistan’s progress and efforts to address these CFT [Combating the Financing of Terrorism] action plan items and notes that since February 2021, Pakistan has made progress to complete two of the three remaining action items on demonstrating that effective, proportionate and dissuasive sanctions are imposed for TF [Terror Financing] convictions and that Pakistan’s targeted financial sanctions regime was being used effectively to targeted terrorist assets,” it had said.

The FATF had asked Pakistan to work on the remaining recommendation by demonstrating that terror financing investigations and prosecutions targeted leaders and commanders of UN-designated terror groups.

It had advised that Pakistan should continue to work to address its six strategically important deficiencies, which included enhancing international cooperation by amending the money-laundering law and demonstrating that assistance was being sought from foreign countries in implementing the UNSCR 1373 designations.

System to track prisoners on parole #GS2 #Governance #GS3 #SnT

The Union Home Ministry has advised the States to update recent photographs of prisoners released on parole/furlough/premature release in the “ePrisons” and Interoperable Criminal Justice System database to generate immediate alerts and facilitate easy tracking in the event of their violating the law.

In an advisory sent to the Chief Secretaries, the Ministry said the States and the Union Territories were advised to review the existing practices and procedures governing grant of parole, furlough and premature release to inmates, as per provisions under the Model Prison Manual, 2016, and guidelines issued by the Home Ministry, the National Human Rights Commission and the Supreme Court.

It was also advised that in order to ensure that the inmates released on parole, furlough and premature release do not violate law, systems must be put in place for monitoring and follow-up of each such case.

Generate alerts

Taking into account the importance of initiating timely action in the event of any inmate absconding/escaping from custody/prison, it was considered necessary to have recent photographs of the prisoners updated in the system and also generate immediate alerts which would enable tracking of such inmates by the law enforcement agencies. The ‘ePrisons’ and ‘Interoperable Criminal Justice System’ platforms could be deployed to address such issues.

Prison departments were told to update the details of any escape from the prison/custody on ‘ePrisons’ on a real time basis. Quick availability of this information would facilitate police and other authorities concerned in nabbing the escapee/absconder. States/Union Territories should leverage ‘ePrisons’ application for updating the profile of inmates on a regular basis, the advisory said.

The Ministry called for appropriate systems to be put in place for monitoring and follow-up of each case of an inmate released on bail, parole, furlough and premature release etc. so that they do not indulge in criminal activities. “Any person who either attempts to escape from prison or absconds from custody should not be considered for grant of bail, parole or furlough.”

Gene editing guidelines facing delay #GS3 #SnT

Even as the Centre investigates allegations that unauthorised genetically modified (GM) rice was exported to Europe, it is yet to decide on a research proposal from its own scientists which would allow plants to be genetically modified without the need for conventional transgenic technology.

Scientists at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute are in the process of developing resilient and high-yield rice varieties using such gene editing techniques, which have already been approved by many countries, and they hope to have such rice varieties in the hands of the Indian farmers by 2024. However, the proposal for Indian regulators to consider this technique as equivalent to conventional breeding methods, since it does not involve inserting any foreign DNA, has been pending with the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee for almost two years.

The IARI has previously worked on golden rice, a traditional GM variety which inserted genes from other organisms into the rice plant, but ended trials over five years ago due to agronomic issues, said Director A.K Singh.

The Institute has now moved to newer technologies such as Site Directed Nuclease (SDN) 1 and 2. They aim to bring precision and efficiency into the breeding process using gene editing tools such as CRISPR.

“In this case, you are just tweaking a gene that is already there in the plant, without bringing in any gene from outside. When a protein comes from an outside organism, then you need to test for safety. But in this case, this protein is right there in the plant, and is being changed a little bit, just as nature does through mutation,” said Dr. Singh . “But it is much faster and far more precise than natural mutation or conventional breeding methods which involve trial and error and multiple breeding cycles.”

Govt. failed to measure scale of hunger to tailor its responses #GS2 #SocialIssues

While the Government has launched a scathing attack against the publishers of the Global Hunger Index for India’s poor ranking, experts argue that not only were steps taken by the Government to check rising levels of hunger in a pandemic year inadequate, it also failed to measure the scale of hunger to tailor its responses.

Following the launch of the Global Hunger Index (GHI) 2021, which ranks India 101 out of 116 countries, and worse than Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, the Government questioned the methodology used. It also enumerated various schemes it announced since the pandemic to counter hunger.

But how was the coverage and were these schemes adequate? Purnima Menon, Senior Research Fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), says there are no answers to these questions because India didn’t conduct a data collection exercise. “I think what was promising was that nutrition was at a high point in terms of political agenda and visibility before the pandemic hit.

In the minds of frontline workers and everyone else the idea that you need to continue to do things for nutrition was helped by the fact that pre-pandemic it was a strong agenda system-wide. There was a response from the Government too, be it food allocation from the Centre or more nuanced State government responses.

But we don’t know whether that was adequate or inadequate. And the only way to know is to relentlessly measure to determine who is hungry, what is the nature and depth of food insecurity, what is it that people want, etc? What we need are population-wide rapid surveys and to make such data available in the public domain,” says Dr. Menon.

When data were available, they were concealed, says economist Jayati Ghosh, who criticised the Government for its response to the GHI. “A responsible Government should acknowledge the problem and say we will do something about it. They suppressed the consumption data of their own National Sample Survey because they didn’t like the results,” Ms. Ghosh says.

“We should have given 10 kg of foodgrains and not five kg, and we should have been continuing to offer them today. We should immediately bring back functional anganwadis providing food, and open schools and provide mid-day meals. These are steps that should have been taken months ago. We should also look at the issue of livelihoods, by massively expanding the rural employment guarantee scheme,” demands Ms. Ghosh.

Dipa Sinha, Member of the Right to Food Campaign and Assistant Professor (Economics), Ambedkar University, questions the Government defence that there were only 3.9% malnourished children identified across various anganwadis. “This can only mean that the Government has not been able to carry out growth monitoring and record the data.”

Need strategic reserves of coal and gas #GS3 #Economy

The Centre has asked States to lift their hydropower output in a bid to conserve scarce coal supplies, Power Secretary Alok Kumar said on Thursday, stressing the need to build strategic reserves of imported coal and gas as was being done for petroleum products.

“At least in the foreseeable 10 years or so, all the countries, especially major economies, will be dependent on fossil fuel supplies for base load and for grid balancing,” Mr. Kumar noted. “We will never be able to insulate ourselves from these supply shocks of imported fuel,” he added, referring to the major supply disruptions due to the soaring global prices of coal, gas and oil.

“Let us start discussing about keeping a strategic reserve of these fuels — gas, oil, imported coal… so that economies are able to adjust and tide over these supply shocks for about a month or so. That will be a small cost vis-à-vis the cost of these disruptions,” he said at the South Asia Power Summit hosted by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII).

Noting that even China, U.K., Europe and Singapore had faced supply challenges, Mr. Kumar said high prices made energy security challenging. India, he pointed out, had 17,000 MW of power plants based on imported coal and 24,000 MW of gas-fired plants, which virtually go out of play when prices rise too high.

‘Crunch time’

“Many countries have started keeping strategic reserves, because when it comes to a crunch, every country will meet its needs first. Russia has curtailed gas supply to Europe because they want more gas to be consumed within their country,” he said, making a case for South Asian countries to build up similar reserves.

Mooting the need to diversify the energy basket to cope with the fossil fuels’ supply crunch, the official said: “For the last one week, we are generating extra hydropower on off-peak days to conserve our coal. We have talked to States and said wherever you have water reservoir, or higher water levels, please generate more hydropower so that we can save coal.”

A surge in power demand combined with a fall in imports due to high global coal prices have led to supply disruptions and power cuts lasting up to 14 hours a day despite record supplies from state-run Coal India. Most of India’s 135 coal-fired power plants have fuel stocks of less than three days. Coal accounts for more than 70% of India’s power generation.

India, the world’s second largest coal importer with the world’s fourth largest reserves, must also compete for supplies with China. “High prices will make energy security very challenging if we don’t have a well thought out strategy,” Mr. Kumar said.