Current Affairs 4th April 2022

Goods export up from pre-pandemic levels #GS3 #Economy

Total merchandise imports had crossed $550 billion by February 2022, leading to a trade deficit of $175.75 billion in the first 11 months of the year.

A bulk of the merchandise exports growth was attributed to engineering goods and agriculture products’ exports, both of which hit an all-time high in 2021-22. Engineering goods exports grew 46% over the year at $111 billion, of which about $16 billion worth goods were shipped to the U.S. alone.

Agricultural exports are reckoned to have crossed $50 billion with a sharp growth in rice, wheat, marine products, coffee and dairy products. “Even a pandemic like COVID-19 and the war-like situation has not deterred our export target for the year,” Mr. Goyal said.

The Minister stressed that the growth has occurred in products where small and medium enterprises are active as well as labour-intensive sectors like jute products, textiles, leather, gems and jewellery.

He also congratulated farmers for raising their productivity so that wheat exports have grown from 2 lakh tonnes in 2019-20 to 21.55 lakh tonnes last year and over 70 lakh tonnes in 2021-22. About half of this wheat was exported to Bangladesh largely through the Petrapole land border, said Commerce Secretary B.V.R. Subrahmanyam.

“We will continue to export wheat in a big way to countries that have been affected by the conflict in Ukraine and Russia (major global wheat suppliers) and hope to export 100 lakh tonnes of wheat this year comfortably.

India’s goods exports grew 43.2% in 2021-22 to nearly $418 billion dollars, rising over $125 billion over the COVID-hit year 2020-21. March recorded the highest ever outbound shipments worth $40.38 billion, the Commerce and Industry Ministry said on Sunday.

The record exports in the year gone by constituted a 33.33% surge over the pre-pandemic levels of 2019-20. Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal said total exports were about 5% higher than the $400 billion target for the year, which was crossed by March 21.

The government did not release data on imports that usually accompanies the official monthly export figures.

New accessibility guidelines to use universal design approach #GS2 #Governance

The Centre will soon notify the latest version of guidelines and standards for accessibility, based on which a certificate course for students as well as government and private sector construction professionals is in the works, according to persons involved with the process.

The draft, “Harmonised guidelines and standards for universal accessibility, 2021,” prepared by a team of the Indian Institute of Technology, Roorkee (IIT-Roorkee) and the Housing and Urban Affairs Ministry’s think tank National Institute of Urban Affairs (NIUA), were first published by the Central Public Works Department (CPWD) in December 2021.

A revised version of the guidelines was submitted to the CPWD by the team last week and was likely to be published online within a week, according to the sources. After that, the Social Justice and Empowerment Ministry will be sent the guidelines for notification, they said.

Hitesh Vaidya, Director of the NIUA, said the guidelines would be incorporated into building bylaws as well. He said a certificate course on the guidelines was in the works. The course could be made mandatory for those working in various public projects and would be open to students, he said.

“Accessibility is not an option, it is a necessity and should be mandatory to transcend all forms for age, ability and gender. As such, it is imperative that the built environment is inherently accessible to all. The harmonised guidelines provide a conduit for the government and private construction agencies to incorporate measures for universal accessibility during all stages of construction,” Mr. Vaidya said.

He added that a committee had been formed by the Ministry to come up with standards. “The framework prepared by the committee will help with the implementation of the guidelines in all new and retrofitting construction work. The guidelines will be shared with the State governments and city administrations,” he said.

The guidelines, which will succeed the 2016 version once notified, go from a barrier-free approach to a universal design approach. Professor Gaurav Raheja, who headed the IIT, Roorkee team, said the aim of the guidelines was also to hand-hold stakeholders through the process and be educational. The guidelines had been made more reader-friendly, and had both the minimum standards required and recommendations for best practices, he said.

Apart from standards for ramps, grab rails and facilities for persons with disabilities (PwD), the guidelines also included maintenance.

Professor Raheja said while rules regarding accessibility features in government buildings have been in place, the implementing agencies would encounter the problem of items such as swing bars and Braille plates not being listed on the Delhi Schedule of Rates (DSR), the CPWD’s list of building materials and their rates. As a result, the items would be considered “special items”, leading to variation in quality and prices, he added.

The revised guidelines, however, recommend that these items be listed in the DSR, which would make it easier for officials to procure items of a particular standard and price. Accessibility had been included in masterplans, not just site plans, he said. He added that the guidelines sought to build “citizen connect”.

Engagement with Indo-Pacific goes back several centuries #GS2 #IR

India’s engagement with the Indo-Pacific region goes back several centuries and the country stands for an open, balanced, rules-based and stable international trade regime in the strategically vital region, President Ram Nath Kovind has said.

Interacting with young students at the prestigious Institute of International Relations here on Saturday, President Kovind said India’s approach is based on cooperation and collaboration and is elaborated through the vision of SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region).

“SAGAR guides our approach towards both the Indian Ocean and the Indo-Pacific regions,” he said in a statement issued by the External Affairs Ministry on Sunday.

“While ‘Indo-Pacific’ is a recent addition to the geopolitical lexicon, India’s engagement with the Indo-Pacific region goes back several centuries. The dynamism and vitality of the region make it a global economic centre. We stand for an open, balanced, rules-based and stable international trade regime in the Indo-Pacific,” the President said, in a veiled reference to China which has been acting aggressively in the region.

India, the U.S. and several other world powers have been talking about the need to ensure a free, open and thriving Indo-Pacific in the backdrop of China’s rising military manoeuvring in the resource-rich region.

China claims nearly all of the disputed South China Sea, though Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam all claim parts of it. Beijing has built artificial islands and military installations in the South China Sea. China also has territorial disputes with Japan in the East China Sea.

President Kovind began his three-day visit to Turkmenistan during which he will meet the leadership of the Central Asian country and discuss ways to boost bilateral ties. This is the first visit of the Indian President to independent Turkmenistan.

Uniform Civil Code debate gains momentum #GS2 #Governance

Will the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) be the next big political push for the ruling BJP in the run-up to the 2024 Lok Sabha election?

The UCC means formulation of one law to be made applicable to all religious communities in matters such as marriage, divorce, inheritance and adoption.

Days after taking over as the Uttarakhand Chief Minister for a second time, Pushkar Singh Dhami kept his pre-poll promise and announced an expert panel to examine the possibility of applying the UCC in the State.

Even before the Hijab row further fuelled the debate, Rakesh Sinha, Rajya Sabha member of the party, had moved a private member’s Bill for a law on the UCC. A similar petition by BJP leader Ashwini Upadhyaya is before the Delhi High Court as well. The government, though, has maintained an ambivalent position.

During the winter session of Parliament last December, Law Minister Kiren Rijiju, in response to a written question, said “the matter is sub judice ”.

However, answering a query by the BJP’s Nishikant Dubey on the same issue around the same time, the Law Minister said the matter required an in-depth study of the personal laws governing different communities. “The matter may be taken up by the 22nd Law Commission of India,” Mr. Rijiju said.

But the irony is that even after two years since the Union Cabinet approved the constitution of the 22nd Law Commission in February 2020, its chairperson and members are yet to be appointed.

Tribal communities

One of the reasons for the government’s ambivalence, argued some leaders, is the potential fallout of such a move on tribal communities, a political constituency that the BJP and its ideological mentor, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), are trying hard to win over.

But the issue has seen a renewed push in the Supreme Court as well, especially after the top court indicated that the government should explore the UCC as a means to secure gender justice, equality and dignity of women.

The court’s view is based on several petitions claiming that personal laws governing the followers of certain faiths discriminate against women.

One of these petitions, filed in January this year, by the Chancellor of Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Firoz Ahmed Bakht, asked the Supreme Court to direct the government to constitute a judicial commission or a high-level expert committee to prepare a draft UCC in tune with international conventions which protect the rights of women.

Mr. Bakht, who is also the grandnephew of Independent India’s first Education Minister Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, says it is time to shed personal laws based on “patriarchal stereotypes”.

He argues that the UCC would not only protect the vulnerable sections, including women and religious minorities, but “promote nationalistic fervour through unity” as well as simplify the complex personal laws.

His petition resonates with the Jose Paulo Coutinho judgment of the Supreme Court in 2019, which wondered why the nation had still not endeavoured to secure a common civil code for its citizens.

A Bench of Justices (retired) Deepak Gupta and Justice Aniruddha Bose had said that though the “Hindu laws were codified in the year 1956, there has been no attempt to frame a Uniform Civil Code applicable to all citizens of the country”.

The judgment had said that “despite exhortations of this court in the case of Shah Bano in 1985, the government has done nothing to bring the Uniform Civil Code. The Shah Bano case, which upheld a Muslim women’s right to maintenance was considered a step in the direction of implementation of the UCC. However, the government, in 1986, enacted the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, which nullified the Shah Bano judgment. The Act allowed maintenance to women only for 90 days after the divorce”.

The Supreme Court has even hailed Goa as a “shining example” where “the uniform civil code is applicable to all, regardless of religion except while protecting certain limited rights”.

The Supreme Court’s exhortation came despite the Law Commission, in a consultation paper released in 2018, finding the UCC “neither necessary nor desirable at this stage”. Article 44 of the Constitution does not mandate but only asks the State to make an endeavour to secure the UCC for all citizens. In his Constituent Assembly speech, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar had explained that the UCC was incorporated into the Constitution as a “desirable” move, but for the moment “voluntary”.

The current push within the Supreme Court for the UCC steps away from the cautionary note seen in earlier judgments.

While the top court’s judgments in Sarla Mudgal and Shah Bano Begum cases lamented the official inactivity over a common civil code which would “help the cause of national integration”, several verdicts, like in S.R. Bommai, have warned against “mixing politics with religion”. The court had worried whether a secular state should bring a code which can be perceived to be a threat to personal laws based on the religious beliefs of individual religions.

First cases of infection from diabetes medication in India #GS3 #SnT

After the U.S. and Canada, India too has admitted incidence of a rare but serious infection of the genitals and area around the genitals among Type 2 diabetes patients using sodium-glucose cotransporter-2 (SGLT2) inhibitors (a class of Type 2 diabetes medication).

This serious rare infection, called necrotizing fasciitis of the perineum, is also referred to as Fournier’s gangrene.

As a precautionary measure, the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO) has requested all State Drug Controllers to direct the manufacturers of SGLT2 inhibitor class drugs, named Canagliflozin, Dapagliflozin, Empagliflozin, under their jurisdiction to include warnings in the package and promotional literature of these drugs.

The Health Ministry, responding to a question on the adverse reaction to the anti-diabetes medicine by P. Velusamy, MP, submitted the information recently.

SGLT2 inhibitors and dipeptidyl peptidase-4 (DPP-4) inhibitors are recommended as preferred add-on oral anti-diabetic drugs (OADs) after metformin among Type-2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM) patients with atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD), heart failure (HF), and chronic kidney disease (CKD). They are generally many times costlier than other OADs, experts say.

The Ministry submitted in Parliament that CDSCO was notified about a Health Canada communication to all those authorised to market SGLT2 inhibitors regarding a summary safety review (SSR) on the potential risk of pancreas inflammation (acute and chronic).

The United States Food and Drug Administration (USFDA), in its drug safety communications (DSC), has cautioned about cases of rare but serious infection of the genitals and area around the genitals bring reported with use of SGLT2 inhibitors.

“This serious rare infection, called necrotizing fasciitis of the perineum, is also referred to as Fournier’s gangrene. The USFDA has revised the labels of SGLT 2 inhibitors to include new warnings about the risk to patients,” the Ministry said.

It added that the issue was examined in consultation with the Subject Expert Committee (SEC) of CDSCO and information available under the Pharmacovigilance Programme of India (PvPI) has also been obtained.

Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya had stated in Parliament that the exact number of patients suffering from diabetes in India was not known. However, as per 10th edition of Diabetes Atlas 2021 of International Diabetes Federation (IDF), the estimated number of patients with diabetes between the age group of 20 and 79 is 74.2 million in year 2021 and it is estimated to be increased to 124.8 million in year 2045.

IPCC report talks going down to the wire #GS3 #Environment

Negotiations between scientists and governments over a key United Nations climate report were going down to the wire on Sunday, as officials from major emerging economies insisted that it should recognise their right to development.

The latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a UN-backed science body, is meant to show the paths by which the world can stay within the temperature limits agreed in the 2015 Paris accord.

The agreement aims to cap global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius this century. But with temperatures already more than 1.1C higher than the pre-industrial baseline, many experts say that’s only possible with drastic cuts to greenhouse gas emissions.

The closed-doors meeting was meant to wrap up on Friday so that the report could be presented to the public on Monday.

But several observers said that the talks were still far from finished with less than 24 hours to go before the publication deadline. One climate scientist said about 70% of the text had so far been agreed and there was still hope the negotiations might finish by Sunday.

India has emerged as a key voice pushing for recognition in the report that developing countries have contributed a far smaller share of the carbon dioxide emissions already in the atmosphere than industrialised nations. Therefore, India should not be required to make the same steep cuts.

India, which is heavily dependent on coal, also wants poor countries to receive significantly more financial support to cope with climate change and make the transition to a low-carbon economy. Others, such as oil exporter Saudi Arabia, argue that fossil fuels will still be needed for decades to come and phasing them out too quickly could hurt the world’s poorest.