Current Affairs 27th April 2022

More COVID jabs for children get nod #GS3 #SnT

Amid an uptick of fresh COVID-19 cases in the country, the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) on Tuesday approved the emergency use authorisation for two anti-coronavirus vaccines in children between five and 12, senior officials in the Health Ministry said.

The move comes at a time when several State governments are re-implementing COVID-19 protocols.

Biological E’s Corbevax has been approved for administration in children between the ages of five and 12 and Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin has been approved for restricted use in emergency situations in the 6-12 age group.

Currently, Bharat Biotech’s inactivated whole virion vaccine is being administered in children aged 15-18, and Biological E’s protein sub-unit vaccine in children between 12 and 15 under a national COVID-19 immunisation programme. The DCGI has also cleared ZyCoV-D’s two-dose regimen for children aged over 12. The second dose of the vaccine can be administered on the 28th day.

Dr. Sharvil Patel, MD, Zydus Lifesciences said: “The approval of a two-dose regimen for ZyCoV-D is a welcome development. This will increase the compliance of the vaccine and reduce the overall time required for vaccination to improve immunity against the virus. It will also help in administering the vaccine in a larger population in a shorter time which is always desirable in the midst of a pandemic.”

Approval by the DCGI for Corbevax and Covaxin comes following recommendations by the Subject Expert Committee (SEC) on COVID-19 of the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO).

India, again, ‘Country of Particular Concern’ on religious freedom grounds, says U.S. Commission #GS2 #IR

Saying religious freedom conditions in India had “significantly worsened“ in 2021, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), a bipartisan, independent body, recommended, for the third year in a row, that India be designated a ‘Country of Particular Concern’ (CPC), i.e., the category of governments performing most poorly on religious freedom criteria.

The State Department, which has its own Office of International Religious Freedom, is not bound by the Commission’s recommendations and has not accepted the CPC recommendation for India for the two years.

“During the year, the Indian government escalated its promotion and enforcement of policies — including those promoting a Hindu-nationalist agenda — that negatively affect Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Dalits, and other religious minorities,” the report said.

“The government continued to systemize its ideological vision of a Hindu state at both the national and state levels through the use of both existing and new laws and structural changes hostile to the country’s religious minorities.”

The report section on India said that the government had “repressed critical voices”, especially minority communities and individuals reporting on them. It mentions the arrest of rights activist Khuran Pervez in Kashmir, and the July 2021 death of octogenarian Father Stan Swamy, arrested in October 2020 under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). The report touches on challenges faced by Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs), especially with regard to foreign funding. It also highlights anti-conversion laws.

“In October 2021, Karnataka’s government ordered a survey of churches and priests in the state and authorized police to conduct a door-to-door inspection to find Hindus who have converted to Christianity,” the report said.

Other countries recommended for the CPC designation were: Afghanistan, Nigeria, Syria and Vietnam. USCIRF recommended that the State Department redesignate Myanmar, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan as CPCs.

The government has, previously, pushed back against the USCIRF’s grading, questioning its locus standi. In 2020, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar called the Commission an “Organisation of Particular Concern.”

Mr Jaishankar, who was in Washington two weeks ago for the 2+2 U.S.-India defence and foreign ministry dialogue, said that the state of human rights in India had not been raised at the dialogue. At an April 11 joint press conference of officials from both countries, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken had made the general point that the U.S. remains concerned about human right violations in India.

Act against communal hate, SC tells two States #GS1 #Society

The Supreme Court on Tuesday turned the heat on BJP-ruled Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh to take “corrective measures” against the peddling of communal hate in ‘ dharam sansad’ events and warned that the Chief Secretaries of the two States will be held responsible for any “untoward statements” made during these programmes.

A Bench led by Justice A.M. Khanwilkar said the Chief Secretaries, Home Secretaries and the police in these States were “bound” to stop hate crimes and follow the preventive and punitive measures against hate crimes laid down by the Supreme Court in its judgments.

“We want to see you take corrective measures… These events do not take place overnight. Advance notice is given… Please explain what preventive action you have taken, and did you take action against those responsible after that?” Justice Khanwilkar addressed the State counsel for Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand.

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal said a ‘ dharam sansad ’ was scheduled at Roorkee in Uttarakhand on Wednesday. He showed the court the purported communal statements made by speakers in an earlier event which took place in Himachal Pradesh between April 17 and 19.

“They are not taking action despite judgments from this court… These events are happening in different places,” Mr. Sibal submitted.

‘FIRs filed’

Counsel for Uttarakhand said FIRs had been filed in the case of earlier events of similar nature. He said two communities “who are at loggerheads with each other” were both holding such events. The State had taken action in the past without any communal bias. He said preventive action against untoward statements being made in the Roorkee event were under way. “We do not know what they will say in their speeches… But we are taking steps… Your Lordships may have faith in us,” the lawyer said.

“There is no problem of trust… The doctrine of trust is applicable 24×7. But we want action and we want to see you take corrective measures and not explain yourselves here in court,” Justice Khanwilkar responded.

The Uttarakhand lawyers said the “community he (Mr. Sibal) is trying to protect is also holding events”. “This is not the way you (State of Uttarakhand) present yourself here… And if you are so confident about yourself, we will hold your Chief Secretary, Home Secretary and Inspector-General concerned responsible,” Justice Khanwilkar said sternly.

The court ordered the Himachal Pradesh Home Secretary to file an affidavit by May 7 on the action taken, in terms of the Supreme Court judgments, against those responsible for making hate speeches in the State.

There will be no winner in Ukraine war #GS2 #IR

No one will emerge victorious from the war in Ukraine, said External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar on Tuesday.

Addressing the annual Raisina Dialogue here, the senior Minister said the citizens of the world were getting affected by events such as the pandemic and violence, and reminded guests from western countries of several equally serious challenges in the Indo-Pacific region and that they should look beyond the crisis in Ukraine.

Rules based order

“There will be no winners out of this conflict. At this moment, this would occupy you with the exclusion of everything else. There are equally pressing issues in other parts of the world. I mentioned Afghanistan… the challenges we faced in Asia,” Dr. Jaishankar said. He cited that the “rules-based international order” was violated in the Indo-Pacific region in the recent past, but the western decision-makers did not pay sufficient attention to addressing the causes of such breakdowns.

A day earlier, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen had also connected the Ukrainian crisis with the Indo-Pacific region, saying the war in Europe had begun to impact the region. Her premise was based on the emerging partnership between Russia and China that she described as an “unrestrained pact”. During the second day of the annual event, several speakers including former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott echoed Ms. Von der Leyen’s opinion on China’s role in the emerging world order, and said that following the Russian military campaign on Ukraine, China may be tempted to launch an operation to take Taiwan.

India has maintained communication with both sides of the war and urged for “immediate cessation of violence”. The policy has drawn some criticism including from U.S. President Joe Biden, who described it as “shaky”.

Mr. Jaishankar took on the critics of India’s neutral status on the Ukraine crisis, saying, “When rules-based order was under challenge in Asia, the advice we got from Europe is ‘do more trade’. At least we are not giving you that advice”. Further, he said the people of Afghanistan were abandoned without any concern about their future.

“In terms of Afghanistan, please show me which part of the rules-based international order justified what the world did there,” said Mr. Jaishankar who urged the western decision makers to look beyond their immediate continental problems. “I recognise today that the conflict in Ukraine is one among the dominant issues, not just in terms of principles and values alone, but also for knock-on effects. People in Asia and Africa are saying the conflict is playing out in terms of higher energy prices, food inflation, disruption of various kinds,” he said.

He urged for the beginning of serious negotiations.

Wrong to say half of working age cohort dropped out: govt. #GS3 #Economy

Responding to a recent report of the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), the Union Labour and Employment Ministry on Tuesday said it was “factually incorrect” to infer that half the working age population had dropped out of the labour force. A large proportion of the cohort was pursuing education or engaged in unpaid activities such as care-giving, it said.

“Employment is the primary concern of the Government of India and various steps are being taken by Ministries/departments for generation of employment opportunities in the country…It is important to note that the complete working age population may not be working or seeking work. A substantial portion of working age population is either pursuing education…or engaged in unpaid activities like production of goods for own consumption, unpaid domestic activities or care-giving services for household members, volunteering, training, etc.,” the Ministry said in a statement.

‘Not looking for jobs’

The statement said, according to the Education Ministry, more than 10 crore people were enrolled in secondary, higher secondary, higher or technical education in 2019-20 and 49% of that was women.

“Majority of these students pursuing higher education are in the working age population but, all of them may not be seeking work. Similarly, not all females engaged in unpaid domestic services for household members may be seeking paid work,” the Ministry said in the statement.

It added that the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation’s Periodic Labour Force Survey had shown an increase in the labour force participation rate, which is the percentage of population either working or seeking work, from 49.8% in 2017-18 to 53.5% in 2019-20 and a decrease of unemployment rate from 6% to 4.8%.

According to a Labour Ministry official, the CMIE report, which showed a decline in the labour force participation rate from 46% to 40%, did not prepare a frame of households of sample village/block for the survey.

U.S. hosts weapons summit as Moscow warns of world war #GS2 #IR

Top U.S. officials hosted emergency talks with allies in Germany on Tuesday on supplying Kyiv with more weapons to fend off Russia’s assault, as the UN’s chief headed to Moscow in a bid to avert further escalation of the conflict.

The meeting of 40 countries at the U.S. Ramstein Air Base in Germany comes after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused Ukraine of only “pretending” to negotiate a cease-fire and warned of a “real” risk of a new world war.

Moscow’s invasion of its neighbour, now in its eighth week, has triggered widespread outrage among Western nations who have provided weapons and other assistance to Ukraine’s embattled President Volodymyr Zelensky.

“We believe that they can win if they have the right equipment, the right support,” U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said following his visit to Kyiv on Sunday with Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

The two officials promised $700 million in new aid to Ukraine, after months of pleas by Mr. Zelensky for heavier firepower.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was asked on state TV about the prospect of World War Three and whether the current situation was comparable to the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis that nearly caused nuclear war. “The risks now are considerable,” he said, according to the Ministry’s transcript of the interview.

“The danger is serious, real. And we must not underestimate it,” Mr. Lavrov said. “NATO, in essence, is engaged in a war with Russia through a proxy and is arming that proxy. War means war.” And Germany said it would begin supplying anti-aircraft tanks, a clear shift after refusing for weeks to provide more advanced equipment, and a sign that Berlin was abandoning its cautious approach towards Moscow.

Military specialists said Western allies wanted to equip Ukrainian forces to halt the long-range bombings by Russia in the eastern Donbas region.

Attack drones, anti-aircraft missiles and sophisticated intelligence from Western agencies could prove vital for slowing the advance of Russia’s military might, they said.

But stoking fears of a wider conflict, several blasts were reported on Tuesday in the neighbouring ex-Soviet state of Moldova, in the Russian-backed separatist region of Transnistria.

In-person talks

In Moscow, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was to hold his first in-person talks with Mr. Putin since the fighting began on February 24.

“We are extremely interested in finding ways in order to create the conditions for effective dialogue, create the conditions for a ceasefire as soon as possible, create the conditions for a peaceful solution,”Mr. Guterres said at the start of talks with Mr. Lavrov. The UN’s refugee agency said on Tuesday it now expects more than eight million Ukrainians will eventually flee their country, up from 5.2 million already.

China, India add coal plants as global capacity addition dips 13% #GS3 #Economy

China led global coal power expansion in 2021, with about 25,000 MW of new plants, followed by India with about 6,100 MW, reported the Global Energy Monitor which conducts an annual survey of coal power capacity under development or deployment. Worldwide, however, coal-plant capacity under development declined 13% last year.

After rising in 2020 for the first time since 2015, total coal power capacity under development slid last year to a record low of 457 gigawatts (GW), from 525 gigawatts.

Thirty-four countries are mulling new coal plants, down from 41 countries in January 2021. China, South Korea, and Japan have pledged to stop funding new coal plants in other countries, but China continued to lead globally in domestic development of new coal plants, commissioning more coal capacity than the rest of the world combined.

In all, 45,000 MW of global coal power capacity — a little over half of which was from China — was commissioned in 2021 while 26,800 MW was retired, resulting in a net increase in the global coal fleet of 18,200 MW. In 2020, the net increase was 11,500 MW, which was the result of 56,800 MW of new capacity and 45,300 MW of global retirements.

Earlier this month the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said there was no carbon budget left for new coal plants, and added that coal use needed to fall by 75% by 2030 (from 2019 levels) to limit global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius, in line with the Paris Agreement.